ST. GEORGE — A bill that will require service providers to block obscene and pornographic materials in schools was signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox Tuesday night.
School Technology Amendments, designated HB 38 in the 2021 Utah Legislature, was sponsored by Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, who said that, though it seems like a no-brainer, he’s been working for years to get the bill passed.
“I started studying this issue three years ago, when I got elected,” Seegmiller told St. George News. “The more I learned, and the more firsthand reports I heard from and students, the more appalled I became.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the problem is that school kids have been exposed to pornographic material “using state sponsored, tax-payer funded scholarly resources.”
“Students learning remotely during the pandemic spend increasing amounts of time online,” Weiler said to the Senate in March, “which increases their chances of coming across pornographic content. This can be detrimental to their development.”
Weiler said that Utah, as a state, has entered into contracts with service providers expecting that they would block such content.
“This bill ensures that providers will block such material,” Weiler said.
The law, which goes into effect June 21, says that if a service provider fails to block such content or quickly address any issues of such material bypassing filtering mechanisms, they could lose payments, and, ultimately, contracts.
“The law also creates a mandatory reporting requirement,” Seegmiller said. “That way, the problem won’t persist in the dark. Rather, every instance will be recorded, so that managers can fix the problem.”
The bill’s language defines obscene or pornographic material as that which “appeals to prurient interest in sex, and is patently offensive in the description or depiction of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sadomasochistic abuse, or excretion.”
But the language is also careful to exclude material which has “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
“This legislation took years because there were opposition groups who were afraid the law might also block content that is not pornographic,” Seegmiller said. “So, I had to work with dozens of stakeholders, leaders from the Worldwide Federation of Women, our state’s libraries and librarians and many pro-family organizations.”
Seegmiller said that once he explained what he was trying to accomplish, the bill turned opponents into supporters.
“This was a bipartisan, win-win, situation,” Seegmiller said. “And with its passing, years of hard work came to fruition.”
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