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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

House Bill Would Restrict Access to Pornography

Multiple individuals spoke on behalf of a House bill Monday afternoon that would create more restrictions on accessing pornography.

The bill, entitled the “Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Act,” would prohibit distributors from selling any devices that would provide access to obscene material that has no “literary, artistic, political or scientific value” unless the devices are equipped with blocking software.

Other content that would be banned includes websites that promote prostitution or facilitate human trafficking.

The blocking software could be disabled if anyone over the age of 18 makes a request to the distributor and pays a one-time fee of $20 and acknowledges a letter that states obscene images will no longer be barred. 

The bill also would establish a reporting mechanism such as a call center or website where obscene material can be reported and ultimately blocked. Material not considered obscene, but that is blocked, could also be reported. Distributors have five days to block or unblock reported content.

Under the legislation, the attorney general or a prosecutor may seek action against any distributor that knowingly allows such content. The infraction would be considered a misdemeanor with maximum punishment of less than a year in prison, or a fine of up to $500 for each image.

Christian Sevier, a proponent of the bill, dismissed the idea that states would have trouble determining what defines a pornographic image.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so anyone who kind of peddles that, kind of floats that narrative is basically just an advocate for the continued distribution of pornography to minors,” Sevier said.

In total, seven people spoke in favor of the bill, including Nanette Ward, chair of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. She says survivors of human trafficking have spoken to the organization on how pornography was used in their experience.

“Pornography has played a significant part in their trafficking, whether they’d been exposed in the grooming process or whether it was forced upon them as sort of instruction to be sex trafficked,” Ward said.

Jim Durham, who represents the Consumer Technology Association, spoke in opposition of the bill, believing that it would put a burden on the distributors as opposed to stopping the production of pornography.

“The problem is not the messenger, the problem is the message,” Durham said.

The bill also creates the “Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Fund,” within the state treasury.

Copyright 2018 KBIA