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Utah bill to require warning label on pornography passes House

Utah State Capitol during Art Day at the Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Salt Lake City. A Senate committee gave a favorable recommendation Monday to a bill that would criminalize so-called “revenge porn.” The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Crimi Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah bill to require pornography sites to post warning labels about the harmful effects lawmakers say it can have on minors cleared another legislative hurdle Tuesday.

The Utah House of Representatives voted 60-12 to pass HB243, which would allow publishers to be sued for up to $2,500 for each violation of not posting a warning label. The bill, watered down from its original version, includes a more stringent test of pornography, using an adult standard of obscenity rather than defining it as material harmful to minors.

“We have a constitutional duty as a state Legislature to provide for the health, safety and morals for the state,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, on the House floor.

Brammer argued the warning label will not only provide another chance for internet users — adults or children — who accidentally stumble on a porn site to click away, but also could help home internet filters to better recognize and catch pornography sites.

“It gives us a shot,” Brammer says, of stopping “obscene material” from entering homes and “preventing our children from being caught by surprise.”

Some House Democrats who voted against the bill said protecting minors from pornography is a worthwhile goal, but they expressed concerns about the possibility it could be unconstitutional and violate free speech laws, as well as the costly court battles it could bring.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, called the bill too “aggressive” and one that will lead to expensive court battles to prove whether something is obscene.

But the bill found wide support, particularly among House Republicans, who saw it as a means to combat pornography after Utah declared it a public health crisis in 2016.

“There’s probably not a soul in this chamber that doesn’t have some sad story about children getting access to materials they should not have to deal with,” said Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden.

Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, said many Utah families have told him the “truly horrific nightmares” and “very tragic stories” of children who have been affected by pornography. He called a $2,500 penalty “chump change” compared to those negative impacts, and said it’s “disturbing” that anybody would argue against a legal means to protect children from porn.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.