By Daniel Stefanski |
A bill to protect children on the internet is nearing the finish line in the Arizona Legislature, though some partisan opposition puts its fate in jeopardy with Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs should it reach her desk.
SB 1503, sponsored by Senator Wendy Rogers, “directs a commercial entity to verify that any person attempting to access an internet website containing a substantial portion of material harmful to minors is at least 18 years old.” The bill “authorizes the age verification to be made through a commercially available database that is regularly used by businesses or governmental entities for the purposes of age and identity verification; or any other commercially reasonable method of age and identity verification.” It “subjects a commercial entity that violates the verification requirement to civil liability for damages, including attorney fees and costs, resulting from the minor’s access to the material.”
Rogers was joined on her bill by co-sponsors (and fellow Senators) Ken Bennett, Sonny Borrelli, Frank Carroll, David Farnsworth, Jake Hoffman, Steve Kaiser, John Kavanagh, Janae Shamp, T.J. Shope, and Justine Wadsack.
The bill first cleared the Arizona Senate Transportation and Technology Committee in February with a bipartisan vote of 5-2. Democrat Senator Christine Marsh joined four other Republicans to advance the legislation out of committee. After a Rogers’ amendment was adopted on the floor, the full chamber approved the bill with a bipartisan 19-11 vote, though Marsh did not vote in favor.
Senator Rogers cheered the passage of her proposal after the Senate vote, tweeting, “Need to be age 18 to view ‘content harmful to minors’ (pornography) on the internet. My SB 1503 passed the Arizona Senate. #ProtectChildInnocence”
SB 1503 was then transmitted to the Arizona House of Representatives where it was assigned to the Regulatory Committee. In March, the Committee took up and considered this bill, passing it with a party-line 4-3 vote. It awaits the green light from the House before it travels to the Governor’s Office for her final decision.
During the House Regulatory Committee hearing, Representative Nancy Gutierrez explained that she thought this legislation was “an infringement on our First Amendment rights,” and she found it “ridiculous” that anyone would suggest that a company would be at fault for a child looking at inappropriate websites. Gutierrez was baffled that anyone would also suggest that “there is a mechanism that would even be able to verify age.”
Her Democrat colleague, Representative Alma Hernandez, agreed with these sentiments. Before Hernandez voted against SB 1503, she first stated that she didn’t want children looking at pornography on the internet, but that this was “almost impossible to actually enforce.” She argued that the United States is “not North Korea, China, or Iran, where those countries have internet censorship,” and she challenged her Republican colleagues to return to their freedom-loving roots when coming up for solutions of problems that are perpetrated on the internet. Hernandez stated that she believes “it should be up to the parents to decide if they want to put screening mechanisms on their children’s phones.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.