W. Va. Ops Have Say in Anti-Porn Bill

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

West Virginia legislators approved a new anti-pornography
bill, but only after amending it to satisfy telecommunications purveyors that they would
not be held responsible for unintentional transmissions of adult material to minors.

The bill -- which was not as widely publicized as the state
legislature's March 13 vote to ban same-sex marriages -- had a checkered history,
attracting many amendments. In early forms, it would have created broad areas of
liability, according to opponents.

Early drafts would have regulated the distribution of
"harmful" content, rather than "obscene" content. The definition left
cable operators wondering if they would find themselves in court in the case of a minor
viewing a hard R-rated movie on a premium service after a parent neglected to enter a
block-out code, West Virginia Cable Television Association executive director Mark Polen
said.

Similarly, there were questions of liability by Bell
Atlantic Corp. if a minor accessed adult 900-number services.

At one point -- March 2 -- the bill appeared dead because
the judiciary committees in both houses were so far apart on their respective versions.
Delegates expressed doubt that either version could pass constitutional muster.

But there was pressure to pass some form of legislation
from the office of Gov. Cecil Underwood. His staffers noted that West Virginia is one of
only five states without a statute to protect minors from adult content.

The final bill makes it clear that parties charged under
the new law must intend to distribute adult material, adding that the distribution must be
for the purpose of seduction. "We have no problem with the bill now," Polen
said.

The new bill, which lawmakers approved March 11, makes it a
felony to display obscene materials to unmarried people under the age of 18. Distribution
now includes viewing screens and terminals, and content includes video and audio
transmissions.

The definition of obscenity adopted by the bill is material
that contemporary adult-community standards would deem to appeal to the prurient interests
of viewers.

The law calls for penalties of $25,000 fines or two years
in jail, or both.

The governor championed an anti-porn bill, so he is
expected to sign it into law within the next three weeks.

Some parties in the state, such as the American Civil
Liberties Union, opposed the law. It still appears that an 18-year-old could be prosecuted
if he hands a copy of Playboy to a 17-year-old sibling.

The ACLU may challenge the statute, Polen said.

Related