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Arizona Republicans kill off bill requiring all devices to have porn filters

A Republican bill that would have held companies criminally liable for selling any computer, smartphone or tablet in Arizona without a filter to block children from accessing “harmful content” was rejected by a legislative committee Wednesday morning. 

The legislation, seemingly the brainchild of an anti-LGBTQ activist, also would have allowed parents to sue anyone who helps their child bypass the internet filter. An amendment added to ensure that such lawsuits could only be filed against adults, and not other children, was added but failed to convince lawmakers to support the proposal.

The bill, House Bill 2115, died on a 3-7 vote. 

All three votes in favor were from Republicans, who were split on the measure. GOP lawmakers opposed to it cited their belief that the bill was government overreach, despite their concerns about pornography and the tech industry. 

An anti-LGBT and anti-porn activist known for his wild stunts appears to be the source of the bill, which shares almost identical language to the “Save Our Children Act.” Chris Sevier has drafted model anti-pornography legislation around the country, including in Arizona. 

In 2019, a GOP lawmaker put forward one of Sevier’s bills that would have charged Arizona residents $20 to access pornographic material and used the money to fund construction of a border wall along the state’s southern border with Mexico. 

This year’s bill, from Rep. Michelle Udall, is similar in how it seeks to limit computer access to “material that is harmful to minors” on any device that can access mobile networks, wired networks or the internet. 

It also gives parents the right to sue the manufacturer if their child accesses “harmful material,” and anyone who removes a filter would face a class 6 felony and a $50,000 fine. Companies that don’t comply also can face criminal liability under the bill’s language. 

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Sevier gained notoriety for a piece of legislation he drafted that used the name of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart. Smart’s lawyers eventually sent Sevier a cease and desist after the bill had been filed in 18 states. 

“We have more protection for our kids against White Out then we do against pornography,” Udall, a Mesa Republican, told the committee, recalling a story of how a store clerk checked the age of her child when buying the popular writing correction fluid that has been abused as an inhalent for decades

A number of members of the tech industry spoke in opposition of the measure at Wednesday’s committee meeting. 

Dylan Hoffman, an executive for the tech policy group TechNet, said that the requirements of the bill are not “feasible or possible.” 

“The marketplace is trying to correct for this already,” Hoffman noted, as many phones come with parental controls already installed and there are many third-party applications parents can use to add more robust controls

“Instead of government mandates, we should have stakeholders come together to figure out how to best figure out how to use these tools to protect children,” Lisa McCabe of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association said. “I think it is a matter of parental choice.”

One faith-based group, with ties to a wave of bills that swept the nation declaring porn a public health crisis, praised the bill and said it would help prevent exploitation of children. 

The National Center On Sexual Exploitation, which was previously named Morality in Media, supported the bill in committee. The organization has gone after pornography, and earned notoriety decades ago for filing complaints against the Federal Communications Commission for George Carlin’s famous “7 words” radio show and trying to prevent Playboy magazines from being sold on military bases. 

“Pornography is not protected speech, and once upon a time the United States used to prosecute pornography,” Rep. Neal Carter, R-Queen Creek, said. “It is absolute the providence of this state to regulate pornography.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said that pornography is protected by the First Amendment. It first ruled in 1966 that a state effort to have a sexually explicit book declared obscene and therefore banned under state law was unconstitutional.

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Some of Carter’s fellow Republican colleagues did not entirely agree with him. 

“This is in no way condoning this at all, but the thing that concerns me is, shouldn’t this be the parent’s responsibility?” said Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. 

Finchem also directly addressed the “tech industry,” saying that they need to work on something, adding “don’t make us do this.” 

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said she was concerned about the government overreach of the bill but also worried about what she felt is “censorship” by “Big Tech.” 

“Right now, their software is filtering porn. Who knows? Tomorrow, it could be filtering conservative material,” Parker said. She nonetheless voted against Udall’s bill.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Walt Blackman, a Republican from Snowflake, said the bill didn’t infringe on free speech and merely aided parental control. 

“The government isn’t filtering you from anything,” Blackman said. “That is a personal decision you are making with the flick of your thumb, and government has nothing to do with that.”

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said that pornography is protected by the First Amendment.

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