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ND bill to block obscene content on devices withdrawn

BISMARCK—A controversial bill that would have required companies to block obscene content found on the Internet was withdrawn by a North Dakota lawmaker Wednesday, Jan. 11.

Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, was the primary sponsor of House Bill 1185, which he said was intended to protect children from pornography and from being lured into human trafficking. But he asked his colleagues Wednesday to withdraw the bill, which was part of a national effort to pass similar legislation in other states.

"I think it's just premature at this point in time," Klemin said. "I think we want and see what happens in the other states and then we can move forward in the next session if it's appropriate to do it at that time."

Rep. Lawrence KleminSeveral interest groups, including the the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, raised constitutional and practical questions about the bill this week.

"The structural problems, the conceptual problems and just the practical problems of this legislation are pretty evident without too much study and research," Dan Nelson, director of governmental relations for Midco, told Forum News Service Tuesday.

The bill would have prevented manufacturers, distributors and sellers of products that make online content available—presumably everything from cellphones to laptops and beyond—from selling those devices without a "digital blocking capability that renders obscene material or obscene performances ... inaccessible." Providing a device without a content blocker would have been a Class A misdemeanor under the bill.

A manufacturer or wholesaler could have deactivated the content blocker if a consumer made a request in writing and verified they were at least 18 years old. They would have had to pay a $20 fee, as well.

The bill also directed those manufacturers, distributors and sellers to ensure sexual content involving minors was inaccessible, as well as prostitution hubs and websites that facilitate human trafficking.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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