House Finance, Ways and Means Chair Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, on Wednesday filed legislation that will protect children from accessing pornography online.
Rep. Hazlewood’s proposal, 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,” Rep. Hazlewood said. “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.
The legislation would create a Class C felony for website owners and operators convicted of violating the law. The Tennessee Department of Homeland Security would be responsible for enforcing compliance with the law.
Constituents from House District 27 provided 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. "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."
A national survey by Common Sense Media cited 73 percent of teen respondents aged 13-17 had watched pornography online. Fifty-four percent reported first watching pornography online before age 13.
The Tennessee General Assembly in 2017 joined with several other states in recognizing pornography as a public health crisis in a joint resolution.
This bill represents the next logical step in addressing this crisis and preventing harm, Rep. Hazlewood said. The Protect Tennessee Minors Act, House Bill 1614, can be found here.