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Porn-blocking bill wins final legislative OK

A bill that would require new cellphones and tablets sold in Utah to come with activated pornography filters won final approval in the state Legislature, although some lawmakers argued the proposal is unworkable and could raise constitutionality concerns.

Even proponents of the measure, HB72, conceded that the bill is imperfect. But one supporter pointed out that the legislation won’t take effect until five other states pass a similar law, which means Utah will probably have plenty of time to refine the proposal.

“It gives us years, most likely, to iron out all of the problems, if there are problems,” Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said Thursday to his colleagues. “But it does send a strong message.”

The state Senate passed the bill 19-6, sending it to the governor for consideration after the House previously approved it.

Several years ago, Utah lawmakers passed a resolution that declared pornography a “public health crisis” and recognized the need for education, prevention, research and policy changes to control a “pornography epidemic.” Last year, legislators approved a bill to require that all pornography in Utah come with a warning label.

This year’s legislation, sponsored by South Jordan Republican Susan Pulsipher requires every new mobile device and tablet sold in Utah after Jan. 1, 2022, to have adult content filters turned on at the time of purchase. Pulsipher has said this requirement will assist parents who want to protect their children from harmful online content but don’t have the technological know-how to block it from their devices.

However, state Sen. Jake Anderegg told his colleagues that the proposal won’t work because it tasks manufacturers with turning on the filters — even though the software to do so hasn’t yet been loaded onto the devices. The option to activate the adult content blockers isn’t available until further down the supply chain, he said.

He predicted that if the bill passes into law, Apple and other tech giants will be pressuring the state to correct some of these problems.

“As much as the intentions of this bill are good, logistically it just won’t work,” Anderegg, R-Lehi, said. “And I think if we pass this bill, it sends a good message. … But we absolutely will be back here at some point in the future, maybe even in a special session to fix this.”

Anderegg ultimately voted in support of the bill, saying that while he has “a lot of trepidation” about the bill, he doesn’t “want to be the guy” who opposes an attempt to shield children from graphic content.

But Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, raised a separate concern that the bill might have constitutional issues, telling her colleagues that it could cause an undue burden in interstate commerce and is vaguely worded in some places.

Her solution when children misuse smartphones?

“You can have an old, dumb phone,” she said.

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