BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A new bill making its way in the Alabama House of Representatives would ban people of a certain age from watching pornography online, as well as collecting fees from companies wishing to broadcast such material in the state.
Bill HB441, sponsored by Rep. Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga, aims to require pornography distributors to take “reasonable measures” to ensure their content is viewed by people 18 years old and older. This would be done through identification verification maintained by the companies, where identification like a driver’s license or credit card can be used to confirm age. However, the bill states that the companies would not retain any identifying information provided to them.
“Pornography is a public health crisis leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms,” the bill states. “This state has a compelling governmental interest to take action, and this act serves as the most narrowly tailored approach to prevent pornography exposure and addiction to children and to educate individuals and families concerning its very serious harms.”
The bill would also collect fees from online companies wishing to show their content in Alabama, with half of money generated going to the state general fund and the other half going to the Special Mental Health Trust Fund.
The bill comes on the heels of a similar bill passed in Utah that requires pornographic websites to use a system to verify that those visiting the websites are over the age of 18, such as use of a “government record or third-party identification service.” Another similarly-framed law was recently passed in Louisiana.
“You should be able to have to prove you’re an adult to view pornography because it’s illegal for children to view it, and it’s illegal for adults to show it for children,” Utah Sen. Todd Weiler said during a recent committee hearing.
Following the passage of the law, the website Pornhub blocked access to its website in Utah.
Robbins said he had thought about introducing the bill before Utah and Louisiana and implemented their own bills, citing stories he had heard from people about children being exposed to pornography.
“We want to prevent children from accessing material that is not age-appropriate,” Robbins said.
Robbins said that while families should have the ultimate responsibility to gauge what their children have access to online, the bill could provide guardrails to better keep that material away from them. He also cited how the government has put age limits on how old one can be to buy alcohol or tobacco products.
“I would say that as the government, we have a responsibility to protect children,” Robbins said. “I don’t believe this is overreach. I believe we are fulfilling our obligation to protect children.”
HB298 by Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, also deals with how those view pornography, calling for smart phone and technology companies to require filters to be installed on their devices in order to block such material from being viewed. It recently passed a House committee and is slowly trying to make its way to the floor for a vote.
Over the years, some in the Alabama Legislature have introduced several resolutions and bills to address pornography. In 2020, one month before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared throughout the country, Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) introduced a resolution recognizing pornography as a public health emergency, which was adopted by the Senate.
In 2006, a bill was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives to make it a crime for pornography to be displayed in a vehicle that could be seen by anyone outside. The bill did not make it to a floor vote. In 2008, a House bill was introduced to tax on “adult telephone conversations,” as well as the sale of “adult novelty items” and pornography. Like the 2006 bill, this did not get voted into law. Another take on this bill was introduced again in 2015, but did not go far in the legislature.
Robbins said that if passed into law, he hopes his bill will be able to keep young children from viewing pornographic material.
“I would hope we could create a healthier mental state for our children, so we can protect them from external issues and have a more thriving society,” he said.