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Tom White
Tom White, Dist. 8, Omaha

It used to be that parents felt safe when their children were in the house, away from the dangers of the outside world, said Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton.

But with sexual predators trolling the Internet, that's no longer true.

Computers, while wonderful, "allow way too much into their lives that is dangerous and damaging to their psyche," Dubas said as senators gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill that helps protect children from predators and from their own naiveté.

"The Internet extends the reach of people who prey on our children," said Omaha Sen. Tom White, whose bill was one of three measures combined in LB97.

The bill would bar registered sex offenders from using such social networking sites as MySpace or Facebook, and it would require them to provide Internet communication identities. It also would increase penalties for some child pornography offenses.

But it would create an exception for teens who knowingly send nude pictures of themselves to another minor and for those younger than 19 who get a picture from a person who is at least 15 and don't send it on.

Teens sending nude or seminude pictures of themselves is known as "sexting," and it is apparently widespread.

Girls are taking and sending pictures to their boyfriends via cell phones and e-mail. And they're putting them on MySpace, an assistant attorney general told senators earlier this year.

Sending those images is technically against the law. The bill would allow an exemption from child pornography charges for minors in certain cases. Prosecutors can also charge teenagers as juveniles rather than adults.

The requirement that registered sex offenders provide their online identification information to the sex registry will help parents monitor children's Internet activity, senators said.

What sexual predators value the most is anonymity, said Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who has worked with predators.

"They value blending in. They value people not knowing who they are, especially children," he said.

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The bill takes away their ability to blend in. And it gives parents another tool, he said. It gives them the ability to compare those domain and user names to the sex offender registry.

Parents need all the tools they can get, he said.

The Internet has expanded the child pornography problem, senators said.

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh said 10,000 computers in the state store and actively share child pornography.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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