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State house age verification bill moves ahead with amendment

An Indiana Senate bill requiring websites hosting pornography and other “material harmful to minors” content to verify that users are over 18 was tempered somewhat by an amendment adopted during the legislation’s second reading on Tuesday.

The amendment to Senate Bill 17, proposed by bill author Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, removed criminal liability for website operators who fail to implement age verification via government-issued ID or third-party age verification service.

The bill originally made such a failure a Class A misdemeanor, upgraded a Level 6 felony for repeat offenses. Website operators that violate the law would still be open to civil litigation from Indiana plaintiffs.

SB 17, passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 10 and now headed for its third reading in the Senate, would make Indiana the latest Republican-controlled state to implement such a law.

The bills, hailed by advocates as a common-sense response to the unprecedented access to adult content provided by the internet, have prompted a backlash from the pornography industry. A pending lawsuit brought against Texas’ version of the law by an adult industry trade group claims that the legislation unfairly restricts free speech.

Four similar bills introduced in the Indiana House of Representatives are currently awaiting hearings in the House Judiciary Committee.

Another House bill, referred to the body’s Committee on Commerce and Technology, would require smartphone manufacturers to “make a good-faith effort to prevent the use of the mobile smart device by a minor to access obscene matter by configuring the operating system of the mobile smart device such that the mobile smart device’s adult content filter is enabled upon activation of the mobile smart device; and in a manner that reasonably ensures that a minor cannot disable the adult content filter.”

adalton@chicagotribune.com