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Howard board tables proposed sexting ordinance

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

HOWARD – The village board decided Monday, July 8, to table action on adopting an ordinance related to the sending of obscene or sexually explicit electronic messages, also known as sexting.

Board members have questions about the wording being taken from state statutes before including it as a prohibited offense in Howard’s municipal code.

Village Administrator Paul Evert said the school liaison officer had asked Howard to add a provision in state law among the offenses into the village code to be able to apply to the middle school.

Evert pointed out that is already on the books in Suamico where the high school is located.

By adding it to the village code, Evert said officers would have the option of writing municipal citations to municipal court instead of referring a case to the district attorney’s office.

However, Trustee John Muraski said he was confused after reading the specific statute, Wis. Stats. 944.25, as how it applied to sexting.

“Nowhere in there does it talk about sexting,” Muraski said. “It’s about solicitation. The entire code is written around soliciting… It’s not about exchanging images between two people. That’s not talked about at all, not implied at all.”

Evert noted the applicable portion in the statute related to sexting states the following, “Whoever sends an unsolicited electronic mail solicitation to a person that contains obscene material or a depiction of sexually explicit conduct without including the words ‘ADULT ADVERTISEMENT’ in the subject line of the electronic mail solicitation is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.”

Muraski said he didn’t find the statute’s wording to be about stopping sexting, but rather was related to stopping advertising of sexually explicit material.

“Are we trying to use all that’s written in one fashion for a different result?” he said. “That I have a concern with. If we want to pass an ordinance, go through a state statute that talks about sexting specifically, let’s use that. But here we’re using a law that’s clearly written for a different intention than what we’re trying to enforce it at.”

Trustee Maria Lasecki said she believes the statute could be interpreted as being broad enough to include sexting without specifically referencing that word.

Trustee Cathy Hughes said the purpose of adopting the ordinance would be to use it at the middle school, where underage people who send those messages would be targeted.

“It’s kind of an exchange of this, but this is sexting between two underage people, or as many as they have,” Hughes said. “And I think that’s what they’re looking for is the ability to issue some kind of a corrective action. This is for your school liaison officers when they find these kids are doing this or starting to do this.”

Trustee Scott Beyer asked if there was a clear definition of sexting.

“Trustee Muraski mentioned the exchange of nude photographs,” Beyer said. “I think it can go beyond just nude photographs as well.”

Beyer, who made the motion to table, said he wanted to have the school liaison officer speak with the board during a meeting to provide “some clarity on the problem they’re trying to solve, and then review this (proposed ordinance).”
Muraski said the proposed ordinance could apply to both adults and minors.

“This is just too vague,” he said.

Village President Burt McIntyre said he wanted to know if there is any state law that better defines sexting and “is there such a thing as a consenting minor.”

“I don’t think we want to overcomplicate this thing in regard to the legislation,” McIntyre said. “If other communities are using this, we can certainly adopt it and amend it later.”

Evert said he didn’t know what else there is in state law related to sexting, but believes putting the proposed ordinance into Howard’s municipal code could be a tool for officers to use.

The motion to table until the board’s next meeting July 22 calls for getting more information to understand the problem of sexting and find out whether the proposed ordinance being recommended will fix that problem.

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