Lawmaker withdraws anti-porn bill, citing ‘dubious origins’
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A proposal that would have required a filter for online pornography that could be lifted with a $20 fee was withdrawn Tuesday by a lawmaker who cited its “dubious origins.”
Sen. Frank Ciccone said he pulled the bill after The Associated Press reported Monday that the legislation had been pushed around the country by a man with a history of outlandish lawsuits including one trying to marry his computer as a statement against gay marriage.
The measure, pushed in statehouses across the country by a group led by Chris Sevier, has been described as the Elizabeth Smart Law after the teenager kidnapped from her Utah home in 2002.
Ciccone, a Democrat who represents Providence, said he made the decision after the AP reported that Smart, now a child safety advocate, had sent a cease-and-desist letter to backers of the bill and “was in no way involved with this legislation.” He said he felt misled by the group pushing the bill.
“But not only me. I assume there’s quite a few other people,” he said, adding he assumes lawmakers in other states also will pull their bills. “A lot of us had misinformation.”
The legislation had drawn criticism from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an anti-pornography advocacy group. The center demanded last year that Sevier stop claiming it supported his work.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposes the idea, has tracked about two dozen similar bills in 18 state legislatures, none of which has passed.
Sevier and supporters say the bill would protect children and others by making pornography and sites that allow human trafficking more difficult to access.
Sevier said he chose Smart’s name because she has spoken about the negative effects of pornography, including that pornography during her captivity “made my living hell worse.”
After being told by the AP that Smart’s lawyer was sending a cease-and-desist letter, Sevier said the name Elizabeth Smart Law was an “offhand name” given to the legislation by lawmakers. The bill also was promoted as the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act.
“Obviously, we’re not trying to hurt Elizabeth Smart, for God’s sake,” Sevier said. “We don’t really care what it’s called. We just want it to pass. And we’re going to see to it that it passes, and the law is on our side.”
Smart’s new book, “When There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up,” which addresses her nine-month abduction ordeal and stories of others who have survived adversity, was released Tuesday.
A federal judge in Utah on March 16 threw out a lawsuit from Sevier that targeted gay marriage by arguing he should be able to marry his laptop. Similar lawsuits in Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky have been dismissed.
Sevier was sentenced to probation after being found guilty in 2014 of harassment threats against country singer John Rich. Sevier previously told the AP he didn’t do anything wrong and the case came after lawsuits between the men.
The bills differ in some details but generally include requiring internet service providers, or those who sell internet-capable devices, to install filters that screen out obscene material or sites that facilitate prostitution. The blocking can be lifted with a $20 payment. Republicans and Democrats have sponsored it.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union say the idea is unconstitutional, including because it would install onto everyone’s computer a censorship filter that would screen out lawful content.
Before withdrawing the measure, Ciccone had said he sponsored it because children “have easy access to materials that no child should be viewing, such as pornography and other highly offensive or disturbing material.”
A Rhode Island Senate spokesman, Greg Pare, had called it “a national bill” modeled after one in New Jersey, where similar legislation has not been voted on.
Pare cited the HumanTraffickingPreventionAct.com website that Sevier is behind, which says at the top the act is “referred to as the Elizabeth Smart Law.” A spokesman for Smart said she has nothing to do with it and there was “no authorization to use her name.”
Sevier has said he met with Smart’s father and “he knows about it.”
Smart’s spokesman said her father met with a group pushing the idea but suggested she send the letter.