Committee scraps Internet-filtering bill for Montana schools

Wednesday, February 10, 1999

A bill requiring state public elementary and secondary schools to filter the Internet on all computers and to supervise minors while online has been defeated in the Montana House Education Committee.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Allan Walters on Jan. 25, required the board of trustees for each public elementary and secondary school district to ensure that:

  • Every school computer with Internet access had filtering software.
  • Every school provided for “supervision of Internet access by persons under 18 years of age.”
  • Every school denied Internet access to “persons found by the school to repeatedly access illegal materials over the Internet.”

The bill originally would also have required Montana's public universities to filter Internet access for minors. But at a Feb. 1 education committee hearing, Walters announced that he was deleting that section of the bill.

Even though Walters dropped the post-secondary school provision, which had drawn heavy opposition from education officials as well as from the Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the education committee tabled the measure by a 12-6 vote on Feb. 5.

Scott Crichton, executive director of the Montana ACLU, called the decision “terrific news.”

“The committee vote demonstrated that the arguments made against the bill by librarians, academics and civil libertarians cut across party lines,” Crichton said.

“Acceptable-use policies and local control are much better solutions than a statewide mandate,” he said.

Crichton warned that a similar measure might be “back-doored” through an appropriations bill but said his organization was watching for such a maneuver.