Rep. Joe Hayes has a bare problem.
The Fairbanks Democrat is being lobbied by an international nudist organization concerned about his bill to allow police to confiscate property used in the commission of certain sex crimes.
The intervention of the Naturist Action Committee, headquartered in Oshkosh, Wis., amused and perplexed members of the House Judiciary Committee, who reviewed Hayes' bill Wednesday.
The intent of the bill doesn't appear to be controversial: It is designed to let judges order forfeiture of computer equipment used in child pornography, upon sentencing for a conviction.
"Law enforcement agencies are often required to return equipment used in these crimes to the perpetrator or to another person whom the perpetrator has designated," Acting Anchorage Police Chief Mark T. Mew wrote to Hayes. "Many of these items have been specially designed or adapted for no other purpose than to commit specific criminal acts. This equipment is generally costly and sometimes hard to obtain."
Police also could use the confiscated high-tech computers in their effort to identify child pornography Web sites and chat rooms where predators might be trolling for victims, Hayes said.
But concerns arose because of broad terms used in the bill, which targets "property used to aid" certain crimes.
Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said the bill was "overdrafted" and exceeds Hayes' intent. For example, the bill doesn't specify that the property must be owned by the perpetrator, which could lead to innocent people losing their property, she said.
Dean Guaneli, chief assistant attorney general, said there are adequate protections in existing law against that kind of outcome but encouraged amendments adding specifics.
And then the nudist group got involved because one of the crimes included under Hayes' bill is a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure, which could include skinny dipping. Alone of all the statutes cited, that one does not concern sexual activity, said Robert Morton, chairman of the Naturist Action Committee, the political action arm of The Naturist Society. In a letter to Hayes, he threatened a lawsuit.
"I cannot understand what property would be involved with a nudist colony," said Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat. "That's the whole point with skinny dipping: It doesn't include any property at all."
"I am perplexed as to what is the red flag they see," Hayes said.
Morton said in a telephone interview today that, in theory, he and his wife could lose their car after driving to a remote spot to skinny dip. Told that committee members voiced an intent to restrict forfeiture to property actually necessary for the crime itself, he said: "If that's the way they want to look at it, they really shouldn't have any trouble limiting the scope of the bill" regarding nudist activity.
The bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate. And it was unclear Wednesday when the House Judiciary Committee would take it up again.
Joked Chairman Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican: "Rep. Hayes, I'm going to save this bill for a time when we need a good laugh."
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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