State Rep. Hazlewood introduces bill to prevent Tennessee children from accessing online porn

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood makes a comment during a visit to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2019. Hazlewood has introduced legislation aimed at preventing children from accessing pornography online.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood makes a comment during a visit to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2019. Hazlewood has introduced legislation aimed at preventing children from accessing pornography online.

NASHVILLE – Tennessee House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, has introduced legislation aimed at preventing children from accessing pornography online.

The Protect Tennessee Minors Act seeks to restrict children from explicit adult content by requiring online media companies and operators to require age verification for access.

"Exposing children to pornography is a form of child sexual abuse and exploitation that can severely damage a child's intellectual development and emotional well-being. It can lead to difficulty in forming and maintaining positive relationships," Hazlewood said in a news release. "This legislation will apply the same safeguards and restrictions to the online world that we already have in place in the physical world. The standard should be the same."

The bill requires companies to match a photograph of an active user to a photograph on a valid form of identification issued in the United States. Website owners and operators convicted of violating the proposed law would be guilty of a felony and face prison time of three to 15 years and up to $10,000 in fines.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security would be tasked with enforcing compliance.

Hazlewood said constituents from her House district provided valuable input for the legislation.

"My top priority is the safety and health of my children," said Jacob Levy, a Signal Mountain father of five and tech industry executive, in the news release. "Pornography is a societal disaster. Modernizing existing laws to require age verification will protect children from it and help the internet stay digital, not degenerate."

Efforts to reach the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee by email and phone were unsuccessful. But similar laws in multiple states have faced legal challenges and the laws appear mostly not to have gone into effect, TechPolicy.Press reported.

(READ MORE: Political Notebook: Tennessee state Rep. Hazlewood says she plans to run again in 2024)

Hazlewood, first elected in 2014, cited a Common Sense Media national survey that found 73% of teen respondents ages 13 to 17 said they already watched pornography online. Fifty-four percent said they began watching pornography online before age 13.

The bill defines "content harmful to minors." A list includes text, audio, imagery or video that the average person, applying contemporary community standards and taking the material as a whole and with respect to minors of any age, would find sexually explicit and harmful or inappropriate for minors or designed to appeal to or pander to the prurient interest of minors.

It goes on to list a variety of scenarios of actual, simulated or animated material involving parts of the human body, including breasts, buttocks and genitals, as well as touching, caressing, fondling or other sexual stimulation.

Tennessee lawmakers in a 2017 resolution joined with several other states to deem pornography a public health crisis.

Hazlewood said her House Bill 1614 represents the next logical step in addressing what she calls a crisis and preventing harm.

(READ MORE: State Rep. Hazlewood becomes first Hamilton County resident, second woman named as Tennessee House Finance Committee chair)

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-285-9480.

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