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A bill that lays the groundwork for Utah youngsters or their parents to sue pornography distributors received a unanimous, preliminary vote of the Utah Senate on Friday.
Senators voted 21-0 in favor of SB185, which creates a cause of action for minors who are "physically or psychologically" harmed by exposure to graphic content.
"I'm not telling any company in the world 'you can not distribute your pornography'," said bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. "I'm not telling anybody in the world 'you can't watch pornography'."
But the "real beauty" of the bill, Weiler said, is its safe harbor provision. Under the bill, pornography distributors would be immune from suit if they make a good-faith effort to verify a viewer's age and prominently display a content warning about the dangers of pornographic material.
Weiler said the safe harbor, if enacted nationwide, could compel pornographers to self-regulate and limit their content to adult audiences.
"If we can get a number of states with this safe harbor provision then it doesn't matter if a single plaintiff sues or a single plaintiff prevails," Weiler said.
Weiler was the sponsor of last year's resolution declaring pornography a "public health crisis" nonbinding legislation that drew national publicity.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said SB185 is a hard bill to vote against, but added that he is uncomfortable with its practical application.
He said it would be difficult for a plaintiff to prove when, and by whom, they were harmed, particularly if they have been exposed to pornography from several different sources over a period of time.
"I think it makes for a courtroom nightmare," Hillyard said.
Weiler said he modeled his legislation after the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s. He said many of the same questions were asked about establishing harm by cigarette companies, and that his bill includes a provision that attorneys fees be awarded to the prevailing side of potential pornography litigation.
"The idea there is to discourage frivolous lawsuits," Weiler said.
An additional vote of the Senate is required before SB185 can be considered by the House.