New Louisiana laws target online pornography, delinquent taxpayers

Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 8:19 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Among a host of new Louisiana laws that went into effect on New Year’s Day is a controversial measure intended to make it more difficult for minors to access online pornography, by taking aim at companies that do not employ age verification on their websites.

Act 440 was authored by Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-Metairie), who says the law is needed to protect juveniles.

“Someone can sue on behalf of their child,” Schlegel said. “They can sue if children are getting access to pornography. So, it would be up to the user to sue the company for not verifying age first.”

The new law attempts to establish liability for porn companies if their website’s content exceeds 33.3 percent of “material harmful to minors,” as defined by the statute, unless those websites are using “reasonable age-verification methods” to ensure users are at least 18 years old.

The law says such “reasonable” verification methods include digitized identification cards (such as LA Wallet), compliance with a commercial age-verification system that verifies government-issued identification, or a system that relies on public or private transactional data to verify the age of a person attempting to gain access to the material.

“(Minors) are getting unlimited access to it on the internet,” Schlegel said. “So, if pornography companies aren’t going to be responsible, I thought we would hold them accountable,” she said.

More than 40 co-sponsors signed on to the legislation. In pushing for passage of her bill, Schlegel testified before colleagues who sit on the House Civil Law Committee.

“Most of you know that I’m a licensed professional counselor,” Schlegel told the panel. “But some of you may not know that I’m also a certified sex addiction therapist. I specialize in treating people who are struggling with pornography and sex addiction.

“I can tell you first-hand that unlimited access to pornography on the internet is causing a public health crisis for our children. Peer-reviewed research shows conclusively that pornography is harmful for young people.”

The bill achieved final passage in the House by a 96-1 vote, with eight lawmakers absent. Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) cast the only House vote against the bill.

“This new law is unconstitutional, and is likely unenforceable,” Landry explained.

Anonymous users posting reaction to the law on the New Orleans subreddit hailed Landry for opposing it, and warned of its unintended consequences, including potential legal costs to the state of defending it in court, amid other perils.

“Can’t wait till the data breach where everyone’s porn searches will be public,” one user wrote.

But some parents, such as Kerry Bayhi, said they welcomed the new law.

“I think that’s totally wonderful, you know? Anything to limit the access of any kind of pornography online to children is always a plus,” Bayhi said. “As a father of 7-year-old triplets, anything that limits them to get online to accidentally pop a link or something that brings them to something that they really shouldn’t see, you know, I think it’s great.”

Another new law -- Act 701 drafted by Sen. Mike Reese of Leesville -- targets people owing state income taxes. It will allow the state to suspend or deny the renewal of driver’s licenses when notified by the Department of Revenue that the state has an assessment or judgment against someone that is final and non-appealable.

But not everyone thinks such punishment makes sense.

Kalpana Saxena reacted to the law while taking a walk in New Orleans.

“If you take away their driver’s license, how are they going to get to work? How they’re going to make the money to give it back? They have to think of some other way to get it from them,” she said.

Under the law, the suspension or denial of a driver’s license will remain in effect until the individual has paid or made arrangements to pay the delinquent state income taxes, interest and penalties.

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