Big changes to how Utah kids use social media are — again — in the works at the Legislature. Here’s why.

Rep. Jordan Teuscher says lawmakers’ revisions to the new social media regulations have the same goals as last year — protecting kids.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, speaks before Gov. Spencer Cox signs two social media regulation bills at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023. Teuscher said lawmakers are looking to refine those regulations during the 2024 legislative session.

Utah lawmakers are still hammering out changes to the sweeping social media regulations they enacted last year. While details about those changes — and how they may or may not ward off legal challenges — remain thin, one lawmaker working on the revamp says Utahns could see some specifics later this week.

In 2023, the Legislature passed a pair of bills to restrict how Utahns under the age of 18 access some social media platforms. Those regulations, dubbed the “Utah Social Media Regulation Act,” blocked minors from using large social media sites without parental permission. The law also includes an age verification requirement and restrictions on minors’ use of social media during certain hours of the day.

Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said Monday the ideas behind the original law will remain the same, but the mechanism will likely change.

“The end result will be very similar to what you saw last year,” Teuscher said. “We might go about it a different way. The idea of ensuring that there are certain hours when minors can be on social media, having some role that parents play in that process, and having some sort of age verification — I think you’ll see all of those things. It’s just how we get there that will be slightly different.”

The Republican said he’s working closely with Gov. Spencer Cox’s office and a handful of his legislative colleagues on the revisions. He adds that the task is complicated by a pair of federal lawsuits challenging the regulations as unconstitutional.

Teuscher said lawmakers could take the parts of last year bills they still like and add to those priorities this session. “It may not look different,” he said, “but the logistical part of it is what will change.”

Lawmakers have already passed one change to the law. The original law was set to go into effect on March 1, 2024. Last week, legislators rushed through a bill to push that date back to Oct. 1 to buy more time in one of those pending lawsuits to work on the revisions.

In December, NetChoice, a tech industry group representing several social media companies, filed a federal lawsuit claiming the law was unconstitutional. They also asked the court for a preliminary injunction to block the law from taking effect.

The state faced a Tuesday deadline to file a response to NetChoice’s preliminary injunction request. That’s why lawmakers sprinted to pass HB89 last week, moving the effective date from March to October. Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill on Friday afternoon, the fourth day of this year’s general session.

“While pushing back the effective date gives us more time to incorporate more feedback into the law, we are as committed as ever to protecting our children from the harms of social media,” Cox said in a press release statement.

Shortly after Cox affixed his signature to the date change, lawyers for the state submitted a filing with the federal court arguing the preliminary injunction was no longer needed because lawmakers were set to “repeal and replace” the law.

“It makes little sense to preliminarily review, without the benefit of a full record, the constitutionality of a law that is likely to be repealed in the next few weeks and whose implementation date is months after that,” the state’s filing read.

On Monday, federal judge David Barlow agreed with the state and canceled a Feb. 12 hearing on the proposed injunction.

Despite the delay and promises from lawmakers that changes are coming, NetChoice is not backing down from its lawsuit.

“An unconstitutional law is an unconstitutional law, pushing back the effective date doesn’t change that,” said Chris Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We look forward to seeing this law be struck down in court.”

According to legal filings, Utah has been seeking lengthy delays in action in the lawsuit. NetChoice filed their request for preliminary injunction on Dec. 20. The Court initially set the deadline for Utah to respond to that request on Jan. 16, the first day of the 2024 Utah Legislature. On Jan. 2, the state asked to push that deadline back to Jan. 23, giving them time to pass last week’s bill with the new effective date.

In a Monday court filing, NetChoice says lawyers for the state approached them to ask for a delay in court proceedings until mid-August. NetChoice said they would not discuss any further postponements until lawmakers moved the law’s effective date, hence last week’s hastily approved bill.