Ariz. libraries prepare for new ‘obscenity’ law
PHOENIX — School and public libraries in Arizona are preparing for a new tough state law aimed at filtering obscene online content.
The Arizona Republic reports that the new law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, establishes significant consequences for libraries that don’t have a strict policy against such materials.
House Bill 2712 specifies the types of material that schools and libraries must block and includes a tough penalty — the state can withhold 10% of its funding if the school or library doesn’t comply.
Under the law, schools and libraries must filter and block questionable websites from minors and the general public. They also must establish a policy to enforce the ban on these materials, and they have to make the rules available to the public.
If an adult needs to obtain blocked material, the library may lift the filter if it is for research purposes. Other states, such as Washington, don’t allow temporary lifts for material such as pornography. The American Civil Liberties Union brought attention to this restriction in February, saying the law is too strict.
Rep. Steve Court, R-Mesa, who sponsored the bill, said he pushed for the funding penalties to give schools and libraries more incentive to have strict filters in place. If a school or library is notified that it is not in compliance, it has 60 days to change the policy. After that, the state can withhold up to 10% of funding until the library resolves the problem.
The law previously required schools and libraries to prevent minors from receiving “harmful material” on the Internet. Now it specifies that it must block minors from gaining access to “visual depictions that are child pornography, harmful to minors or obscene.”
“It just makes it a little more clear and a little more stringent,” Court said.
Jeremy Giegle, president of Arizona Family Council, lobbied for the bill, which modifies a law originally written more than 10 years ago.
“There [have] been a lot of changes since then so we wanted to get the bill up to date,” Giegle said. “If the schools are going to have more and more technology, how are we going to keep our kids safe?”
Chris Kotterman, deputy director of policy development and government relations for the Arizona Department of Education, said most schools seem to follow the policy already, but it could still have an impact in terms of funding.
“That’s a pretty significant penalty if you don’t comply for a long period of time,” Kotterman said.
Craig Pletenik, spokesman for Phoenix Union High School District, said he wasn’t worried about losing funding. He said the district was already in the process of reviewing its policy, and its computer system updates the filters constantly for potentially harmful websites.
He said the district had been following the Federal Communications Commission’s Child Internet Protection Act since it was created in 2001. The act requires schools and libraries to block or filter any content that is obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors in order to receive certain federal funding.
“I just don’t know that [the new state law] applies to us because we’ve already been following these rules,” Pletenik said. “It’s just part of that whole trend of trying to protect our kids, really everybody, but especially our kids from all the garbage out there.”