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Controversial ‘porn filter’ bill squeaks past House committee by one vote

Proposal would require new mobile devices and tablets sold in Utah to have filters blocking adult content turned on by default.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, is the sponsor of HB72, which would require every new cellphone or tablet sold in Utah to have a filter to block pornography turned on by default.

A Utah House committee Thursday morning narrowly approved a bill that would require new cellphones and tablets sold in Utah to have protections against accessing adult-oriented content enabled by default. That’s after committee members abruptly adjourned without taking a vote on the measure earlier this month.

HB72 from 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. However, the restriction would not go into effect until five other states passed similar measures.

“As I put this bill together, I had the opportunity to speak with many good parents. They shared with me their desires to help their children stay safe in this world that is increasingly dependent on online activity,” she said. “This is very challenging for many parents.”

Pulsipher said parents are often flummoxed by technology, and sometimes have to turn to experts for advice on how to block pornography.

“This bill will not ensure that kids are safe at all times,” acknowledged Pulsipher, but she said it’s an important step in the right direction.

“This bill is a needed addition to other very important things parents can and should do to help their children stay safe,” she added.

Opponents warned the bill could create a supply chain problem in the state as manufacturers might decline to sell electronics in the state because of the requirement, forcing Utahns to head to neighboring states to make those purchases. Others said the proposal allows parents to abdicate the responsibility for their own children.

“Utah will be sending out a message to parents saying not to worry how these devices work because the protections are on. That creates a false sense of security where parents will just hand the devices to children and not take the necessary steps to teach them how to use the device and oversee its use,” said Carl Szabo, the Vice President and General Counsel for NetChoice. “This bill will actually tell parents not to do their jobs because the state will do it for them.”

Some on the committee argued the issue was not completely developed and needed further study, hoping it could be sent to an interim committee for further study, especially since nothing will happen until other states pass similar legislation.

“Holding off this bill is like picking a green peach off the tree and waiting for the blossoms the next year to come and be able to harvest at a later time,” said Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem.

The committee approved the bill by a 6-5 vote. Two Republicans joined the three Democrats on the committee voting against the proposal. It now heads to the full House.

Correction: 1:17 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11. This story has been updated to accurately attribute a quote to a legislator.

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