Houston incident prompts new Peeping Tom bill

March 10, 2011 8:28:30 AM PST
State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) filed HB 2822 Thursday -- a bill that calls for an increase in the penalty for lewd acts and indecent exposure in public places. Coleman was prompted to file this legislation after a man was caught spying on a woman and her 4-year-old daughter in a public restroom stall in Houston.

According to officials, the man had a briefcase with electrical tape, duct tape, a sock with a pacifier, a plastic bag and a recording device.

The man had been caught in women's restrooms nearly 20 times before and had been previously convicted for indecency with a child, but he was only charged with criminal trespass for this incident.

Criminal trespass carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

"That's a serious flaw in our system," Coleman said. "In this situation, the punishment didn't fit the crime. As the father of a young daughter, I'm appalled."

HB 2822 would make it a state jail felony to lewdly violate an individual's privacy in a place like a public restroom stall or shower. State jail felonies are punishable by up to two years in jail.

The bill also calls for repeat offenders to be immediately placed in the state sex offender registry.

"These are crimes most often committed against women and children," Coleman said. "Individuals who grotesquely and repeatedly violate an individual's privacy during a private moment should be on the registry."

This bill builds upon legislation passed by Coleman in 2007 which made it a state jail felony to visually record an individual in a bathroom or dressing room in order to arouse or gratify sexual desire.

"It doesn't make sense that violating an individual's privacy with a camera is a state jail felony, but doing so in person has a lesser penalty," Coleman said. "We need to close that discrepancy."

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