Controversial Utah porn, RDA bills signed into law
Ignoring threats of litigation from civil rights and free speech advocates, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed legislation Monday meant to protect children from Internet pornography.
And despite intense lobbying against it by mayors, Huntsman also signed a Redevelopment Agency-reform bill that prohibits cities from condemning property within RDA zones and halts new RDAs until mid-2006.
Huntsman endorsed the two bills among a flurry of 29 that he signed without explanation with one day remaining before the constitutional deadline to act on measures approved in the 2005 Legislature.
The anti-porn bill sponsored by Highland Republican Rep. John Dougall will require the Attorney General's Office to compile a sort of Internet blacklist of "harmful" Web sites and force Internet service providers to block access to such sites at a customer's request.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Internet industry representatives warn House Bill 260 violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and the Commerce Clause.
The Media Coalition Director David Horowitz warned that Utah taxpayers - like the residents of six other states with similar legislation - could be saddled with legal bills ranging from $100,000 to $1 million.
"When these laws have been found to be unconstitutional - and they universally have - these bills have turned out to be an ACLU funding bill," Horowitz said.
But as is often the case, threats of a lawsuit do not dissuade lawmakers from adopting "morals" legislation such as the porn bill. Utah laws limiting access to abortion were struck down and appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And civil rights groups are waiting to see what happens in other states to decide whether they will challenge the state's marriage amendment and a law that blocks gay couples from adopting children.
Citizens Against Pornography's Fraser Bullock defends the bill, written and rewritten in an attempt to eliminate constitutional concerns. "Do we let the companies that sell porn continue to escalate the assault in our homes, or do we fight back?" Bullock asked. "We want to fight back."
American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Director Dani Eyer said the organization is "likely" to challenge the law.
Under legislation that goes into effect immediately, state attorneys will mine the Internet for legal adult Web sites that they determine are harmful to children.
Internet service providers would have the choice of providing filtering software to users or blocking a site themselves. Utah-based companies that build and maintain such sites would be required to label the content "harmful to minors," with violators facing a possible misdemeanor charge.
Besides constitutional concerns, some say the implementation of the bill will create a bureaucratic nightmare - for the state and for Internet providers.
Local Internet providers say the law is redundant - they already provide porn filters for their customers. Still, they acknowledge the law is much better than the original version Dougall started with, which even legislative attorneys warned could be unconstitutional.
"The market has already provided a solution to this problem," said XMission President Pete Ashdown. "I really doubt they're going to do a better job than commercial entities are already doing."
Local government officials - not business leaders - are the ones most vocal in criticizing Senate Bill 184, which reforms Redevelopment Agencies, saying it is a major barrier for cities aiming to revive economic dead zones.
Sponsoring Sen. Curtis Bramble came under fire from the mayors of Ogden, Centerville and Taylorsville, who are overseeing such projects. But Centerville Mayor Michael Deamer said Monday he is not bitter.
"We made our position known, but I support the governor," Deamer said.
Bramble says allowing the government to condemn homes to make way for a Super Wal-Mart, an issue in downtown Ogden, is the "most egregious ever" for an RDA.
The law also prevents economic-development agencies - similar to an RDA, but without a "blight" finding - from using funds for retail projects.
In addition, SB184 forbids cities from tapping RDA money for sports stadiums, which critics say was aimed at Utah's Major League Soccer franchise, Real Salt Lake, as it seeks a permanent home in Murray or Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson - who is now working with Huntsman on alternative funding for a stadium - opposed the bill for that reason.
Murray ruled out using RDA money for a stadium.
Bramble, who said his home recently was vandalized with chalk messages by soccer fans, insists the measure is not anti-soccer.
"It never targeted professional soccer," he said. "It was pro-protecting education funding."
Tribune reporters Thomas Burr and Lori Buttars contributed to this article.
Other bills signed by Huntsman
l HB4. Divorce Mediation Program, which requires a married couple to undergo one session of mediation if, after divorce papers are filed, there are contested issues.
l HB114. Increases funding for the Children's Health Care Coverage by $3.3 million to insure an additional 12,000 children.
l HB128. Gives Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff a pay raise on July 1 to match 95 percent of Huntsman's salary. Shurtleff's salary will go from $85,400 to $96,520.
l HB132. Gives the Attorney General's Office approval and funding to prepare and present programs to educate parents, educators, libraries and parent-teacher associations on how children can use the Internet safely.
l HB250. Designates the Capitol Complex's West Building and most of its underground parking structure as under the Legislature's control.
l SB72. Parents being treated for drug or alcohol abuse and who suffer a relapse can visit their children as long as authorities say the children would not be at risk.
l SB139. Forbids local governments from giving preference to contractors who pay a so-called "living wage."
l SB199. Restructures the state Energy Office and moves policy functions under the governor.
l SB211. Allows Salt Lake County to raise the hotel tax countywide to fund an expansion of the Salt Palace Convention Center.
l SB239. Creates the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office and council to create a unified voice for state policies on public lands issues.