Panel advances bill that attempts to bar minors from accessing web porn

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The Senate Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to consider a parental rights bill and another measure on age verification for websites with adult content. (Indiana Capital Chronicle photo)

Legislation introducing barriers to minors attempting to access adult content passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously Wednesday, over the concerns of legal advocates and some legislators.

Separately, legislation making it easier for parents to sue over government action also moved forward.

Senate Bill 17 would require that “adult-oriented websites” hosting adult content—such as pornography or other “material harmful to minors”—verify a user’s identity before allowing access. That could be by scanning a driver’s license or registering with a third-party verification service.

“Unfortunately, now, our kids are being subjected (to) and have content that is so, so readily available and of such a harsh, adult content nature that we need to try to put some speed bumps on this and try to make sure that it’s not as accessible as just turning your phone on,” bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek said.

Needing to scan some form of identification to purchase alcohol or other adult products is already normal for most Hoosiers, Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, noted.

“A 16-year-old cannot walk in and buy an adult magazine, they cannot walk into a strip bar. There’s a lot of things they cannot do,” Bohacek said. “As an adult, I cannot buy a pack of cigarettes without being asked for my ID … This is not new technology, these are not new ideas.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU) disagreed, saying it subjects Hoosiers to harmful surveillance and puts their private information at risk.

“(A state) can limit a minor’s access to adult material. However, you can’t do that in a way that impermissibly burdens an adult’s access to the same material,” said Chris Daley, the executive director of the ACLU, sharing court filings from a Texas case on this issue.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, emphasized his opposition to children accessing adult content but had concerns about infringing on adult access. He also worried about sharing Hoosiers’ identifying information with a foreign entity that might own a pornographic website.

“… Pornhub pulled out of Utah, maybe that’s (the) objective here. But Pornhub should be accessible to any adult who wants to watch it. Not children,” Taylor said.

Potential for litigation

Daley, using the Texas case in which a judge issued an injunction, said the ACLU and others — especially operators of adult websites—might sue the state as they did elsewhere after other states introduced similar measures.

“We know that an age-verification system like the one laid out in SB 17 will deter some adults from accessing otherwise permissible material for them and the state can’t use a means to limit the minor’s access to adult material if there’s a less burdensome means available to do so,” Daley said.

“(I’m) very sympathetic to the goals of Sen. Bohacek here. We do, though, recognize that our Constitution requires that laws be appropriately tailored to project free speech,” Daley said. “There are many things you can be doing to protect minors, my advice is just to do so in a constitutional way.”

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, pushed back, saying that different judges could have a different ruling, but urged Bohacek to work with him on an amendment to rectify such issues.

“Unfortunately, now, our kids are being subjected (to) and have content that is so, so readily available and of such a harsh, adult content nature that we need to try to put some speed bumps on this and try to make sure that it’s not as accessible as just turning your phone on,” bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek said.

Needing to scan some form of identification to purchase alcohol or other adult products is already normal for most Hoosiers, Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, noted.

“A 16-year-old cannot walk in and buy an adult magazine, they cannot walk into a strip bar. There’s a lot of things they cannot do,” Bohacek said. “As an adult, I cannot buy a pack of cigarettes without being asked for my ID … This is not new technology, these are not new ideas.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU) disagreed, saying it subjects Hoosiers to harmful surveillance and puts their private information at risk.

“(A state) can limit a minor’s access to adult material. However, you can’t do that in a way that impermissibly burdens an adult’s access to the same material,” said Chris Daley, the executive director of the ACLU, sharing court filings from a Texas case on this issue.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, emphasized his opposition to children accessing adult content but had concerns about infringing on adult access. He also worried about sharing Hoosiers’ identifying information with a foreign entity that might own a pornographic website.

“… Pornhub pulled out of Utah, maybe that’s (the) objective here. But Pornhub should be accessible to any adult who wants to watch it. Not children,” Taylor said.

Potential for litigation
Daley, using the Texas case in which a judge issued an injunction, said the ACLU and others — especially operators of adult websites — might sue the state as they did elsewhere after other states introduced similar measures.

“We know that an age-verification system like the one laid out in SB 17 will deter some adults from accessing otherwise permissible material for them and the state can’t use a means to limit the minor’s access to adult material if there’s a less burdensome means available to do so,” Daley said.

“(I’m) very sympathetic to the goals of Sen. Bohacek here. We do, though, recognize that our Constitution requires that laws be appropriately tailored to project free speech,” Daley said. “There are many things you can be doing to protect minors, my advice is just to do so in a constitutional way.”

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, pushed back, saying that different judges could have a different ruling, but urged Bohacek to work with him on an amendment to rectify such issues.

In particular, Senate Bill 46 says that “a government entity may not substantially burden certain parental rights unless the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering governmental interest.”

Several far-right figures testified about the need for the bill but not everyone was convinced the bill would do much following an amendment to clarify underlying language about qualified immunity for law enforcement and others.

“If it doesn’t soften the qualified immunity (aspect), I don’t know what it does,” said Owen County Circuit Court Judge Kelsey Hanlon, who also leads the Indiana Council of Juvenile Court Judges. “… In most parents and child welfare cases, (the child’s best interests and parental rights) are in tension … We have to do the best that we can.”

Others, including public defenders and court-appointed special advocates noted the qualified immunity didn’t extend to them — the former of which Brown, the chair of the committee, acknowledged would need to be incorporated into the final bill.

Brown opted to hold the bill and didn’t call for a vote.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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