Utah Law to Fund Anti-Adult PSAs

Jeff Berg
SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill facing close scrutiny by the Utah Legislature’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel calls for public moneys to fund public service announcements warning Utah citizens about “the dangers of the Internet.” The bill would also provide for the creation of a state-controlled adult content registry.

House Bill 260, sponsored by Republican John Dougall, would also force Internet service providers to restrict consumers’ access to those sites contained within the adult content registry and punish anyone who produces content in Utah and does not properly rate it with a possible third degree felony.

“The adult content registry is likely to block access to significant amounts of constitutionally protected material hosted on proxy servers that also contain material harmful to minors,” the legislature’s general counsel wrote in a Feb. 17 legislative review note.

“Although the limitations on protected speech are somewhat mitigated by allowing a service provider to block content based on domain names and by providing notice to the consumers that protected material may be blocked, the significant restrictions placed on constitutionally protected speech suggest that the adult content registry has a huge probably of being held unconstitutional,” said the general counsel.

The bill, one of Utah’s only bills this session to be classified as potentially unconstitutional by the general counsel, would draw $250,000 from the Utah General Fund during 2006 and $70,000 each year afterward.

According to copies of the bill currently on record, roughly half that money would be spent on a public awareness campaign to advise consumers about “the dangers of the internet, especially material harmful to minors,” “steps a consumer may take to learn more about the dangers of the Internet,” and “how a consumer can monitor the Internet usage of family members.”

Dougall contends that the bill is constitutional because it leaves the decision wholly up to the consumer and seeks to protect minors from harmful material, but some attorneys are more skeptical.

“The law will earn the sponsor a pat on the back for making the world a better place,” attorney Brian Barnard told the Associated Press. “But will it protect minors? Maybe. Will it violate the constitution? Probably.”