NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Among the slew of new laws in Louisiana that went into effect on New Year’s Day is a controversial measure designed to make online pornography more difficult for underage people to access by targeting businesses that don’t use age verification on their Web pages.
Act 440 was drafted by Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-Metairie) who says the law is needed to protect juveniles.
“Someone can sue on behalf of their child,” Schlegel said. “They can sue when children get access to pornography. So it would be up to the user to sue the company for not checking the age first.”
The new law seeks to make porn companies liable if their site’s content exceeds 33.3 percent of “material harmful to minors” as defined in the law, unless those sites use “reasonable methods to Age Verification” to ensure users are at least 18 years old.
The law states that such “reasonable” verification methods include digitized IDs (like LA Wallet), compliance with a commercial age verification system that verifies government-issued IDs, or a system that relies on public or private transaction data to verify age screen any person attempting to gain access to the material.
“(Minors) get unlimited access to it on the internet,” Schlegel said. “So if pornography companies aren’t responsible, I figured we’d hold them accountable,” she said.
More than 40 co-sponsors have joined the legislation. As she pushed for passage of her bill, Schlegel testified before colleagues on the House Civil Justice Committee.
“Most of you know that I’m a licensed professional advisor,” Schlegel told the panel. “But some of you may not know that I’m also a certified sex addiction therapist. I specialize in treating people struggling with pornography and sex addiction.
“I can tell you firsthand that unlimited access to pornography online is causing a public health crisis for our children. Peer-reviewed research conclusively shows that pornography is harmful to young people.”
The bill reached final passage in the House of Representatives by a vote of 96-1, with eight lawmakers absent. Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) cast the only House vote against the bill.
“This new law is unconstitutional and likely unenforceable,” Landry said.
Anonymous users who posted a reaction to the law on the New Orleans subreddit hailed Landry for speaking out against it and warned of its unintended consequences, including potential legal costs for the state to defend it in court, among other dangers .
“Can’t wait for the data breach to happen where all porn searches go public,” one user wrote.
But some parents, like Kerry Bayhi, said they welcomed the new law.
“I think that’s absolutely wonderful, you know? Anything that restricts children’s access to any type of pornography online is always beneficial,” Bayhi said. “As a father of 7-year-old triplets, anything that prevents them from getting online, accidentally opens a link, or takes them somewhere they really shouldn’t be seeing is great.”
Another new law — Act 701, drafted by Leesville Sen. Mike Reese — targets individuals who owe state income taxes. It allows the state to suspend or deny driver’s license renewals if the Treasury Department notifies that the state has a final and non-appealable assessment or judgment against someone.
But not everyone thinks such a punishment makes sense.
Kalpana Saxena responded to the law while walking in New Orleans.
“If you take away their driver’s license, how do they get to work? How will they make the money to give back? You have to think of another way to get it from them,” she said.
Under the law, the suspension or denial of a driver’s license remains in effect until the individual has paid the delinquent state income taxes, interest and penalties, or made arrangements.
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