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Texas Fixes Its Revenge Porn Law

Texas' revenge porn law is getting a fix.EXPAND
Texas' revenge porn law is getting a fix.
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Texas likely won't have to wait on the courts to fix its 4-year-old revenge porn law. Sunday afternoon, the Texas Senate voted unanimously to support a change to the law that attempts to protect third parties' free-speech rights while allowing the statute to retain its teeth.

"One out of every 25 individuals is impacted by revenge porn," El Paso state Rep. Mary Gonzalez said in April as she rolled out the bill on the House floor. "They deserve to have those protections, and we're trying to maintain that."

The state's 2014 law, one of the first of its kind in the country, forbids anyone from distributing images or video showing "a person's intimate parts exposed" or engaging in sexual contact without the person's knowledge or consent. A conviction under the law is punishable by up to a year in jail and $4,000 fine.

Since becoming law in 2015, Texas' revenge porn law has been subject to several challenges from free speech advocates. In April 2018, East Texas' 12th Court of Appeals ruled that the law violated the First Amendment in response to a challenge filed by an East Texas man arrested on revenge porn charges.

"We have concluded that Section 21.16(b) (of the Texas Criminal Code) is an invalid content-based restriction and overbroad in the sense that it violates rights of too many third parties by restricting more speech than the Constitution permits," the court wrote in its opinion. "Accordingly, we hold that Texas Penal Code, Section 21.16(b), to the extent it proscribes the disclosure of visual material, is unconstitutional on its face in violation of the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment."

Gonzalez's changes to the law take on the problems cited by the court. To break the new law as outlined in the bill, which is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott's signature before going on the books, the person posting the videos or photos online would have to be intentionally harming the person depicted in the photos.

"We're putting in the 'intent to harm a person' (provision) in order to make sure that unintended consequences, that people who might've accidentally received it and then continued to send it aren't negatively impacted," Gonzalez said. 

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