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Debate continues on bill requiring default parental controls on devices

The committee did not vote on the bill, but expects to vote on it next week.

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For the past several years, Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, has been carrying a bill to require parental control filters to be turned on by default on all devices in an effort to guard children from accidentally accessing pornography.

And every year, there has been the same debate—telecommunications companies say the bill is unworkable and other opponents raise concerns that it could be found to unconstitutionally interfere with the First Amendment rights of adults; supporters of the bill say it’s a simple software update that is well worth whatever trouble with implementation to help minors avoid stumbling on pornography.

That debate continued on in that fashion once again on Wednesday as this year’s version of the bill, HB167, came before a Senate committee for consideration. Four people spoke in favor of the bill, and four against.

“Our bill, as Rep. Sells said, explicitly states telecommunications companies are not held liable, yet we have telecommunications companies here as opponents; you have to wonder why,” said Melea Stephens, a licensed counselor with Wellspring Christian Clinic in Birmingham. “I’m just telling you the porn industry and big tech are oftentimes fighting us tooth and nail because they see our children as a profit target; they do not want give up access to our kids. That’s what this really boils down to: are we going to support and protect Alabama’s children, or are we going to support the interests of big tech and the porn industry?”

“I guess money talks and children suffer,” Sells said when introducing the bill.

Caroline Franklin, representing the Business Council of Alabama, said BCA supports protecting consumers, but “not at the expense of business and our economic progress.

“HB167 is another instance of legislation that mandates certain business be the solution to a problem they are not responsible for creating,” Franklin said.

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Franklin pointed to HB164 by Rep. Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga, requiring age verification measures for access to pornographic websites, which she said is a sensible solution to protecting children.

Robbins brought the bill last session in direct response to the concerns about this bill after a speaker challenged the House committee to consider going after the pornography industry directly. And both bills mirror legislation in Utah that played out similarly.

Alabama mother Rachel England once again shared her testimony, although she did not appear in person and instead had another individual read her testimony. The testimony appeared to be the same verbatim as England’s testimony last session about how her daughter accessed pornography at 7 years old on an unfiltered school tablet, which she said radically altered her life.

The committee did not vote on the bill, but expects to vote on it next week. There will be only four days remaining in the session.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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