- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A group of Utah senators signed off Tuesday on the first of two proposals this year continuing a lawmaker’s campaign against pornography.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, led an effort last year for Utah to declare pornography a public health crisis, contending that pornography is addictive and distorts children’s thinking about sex, threatens marriages and contributes to sexual violence.

Weiler has introduced a bill this year that would require public libraries in Utah to install blockers on their wireless networks to prevent people from viewing obscene content in libraries.

“As a parent of teenagers myself, I would think that a library is a safe place from pornography,” Weiler said. “Sure, they have books on the human reproductive system, but I’m not talking about that - I’m talking about hardcore pornography and sex videos.”

Utah is one of 25 states that have adopted internet filtering laws for publicly funded schools or libraries. Some of those states require libraries have policies that aim to prevent access while others, like Utah, require libraries receiving public funds to use filtering technology.

But the way Utah’s law is written, requiring the filters for “any publicly accessible computer” came before widespread use of wireless networks used by people on their own personal computers, tablets and internet-accessible phones.

Weiler says most of state’s 100-plus public libraries already have pornography-blocking technology on their wireless networks, but a dozen smaller branches do not. He said he’s requesting $50,000 in the state budget, which will be voted on in the coming weeks, so those dozen libraries can apply for grants to cover the costs of the new technology.

A Senate committee approved Weiler’s measure Tuesday, sending it to the full Senate for debate. It’s likely to be approved by that chamber, the House of Representatives and Utah’s governor, all of which unanimously supported Weiler’s health-crisis resolution last year.

Utah’s anti-pornography declaration last year was symbolic and didn’t ban or regulate anything, but it stirred a national discussion about porn. The state’s stance we incorporated into the official platform of the Republican Party during the national GOP convention last summer.

Defenders of pornography contend that critics are pushing hyperbole and that sexually-explicit materials can be a safe outlet for some.

Weiler told The Associated Press that he doesn’t know of any specific libraries that have had a problem with patrons viewing pornography but said he believes every library encounters it routinely, including those with filters, because the filters don’t capture everything.

A message left with the Utah Library Association inquiring about the issue was not returned.

Weiler said he’s planning another proposal that would allow minors who were exposed to pornography to file a lawsuit against pornography-hosting websites seeking damages. He said that legislation should become public Wednesday.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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