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Arizona libraries prepare for new ‘obscenity’ law

PHOENIX — School and public libraries in Arizona are preparing for a
new tough state law aimed at filtering obscene online content.

The Arizona Republic
reports that the new law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, establishes
significant consequences for those entities that don’t have a strict policy
against such materials.

House Bill 2712 specifies the types of material that schools and libraries
must block and includes a tough penalty — the state can withhold 10
percent of its funding if the school or library doesn’t comply.

Under the law, schools and libraries must filter and block questionable
websites from minors and the general public. They also must establish a
policy to enforce the ban on these materials, and they have to make the
rules available to the public.

If an adult needs to access blocked material, the library may lift the filter if
it is for research purposes. Other states, such as Washington, don’t allow
temporary lifts for material such as porn. The American Civil Liberties
Union brought attention to this in February, saying the law is too strict.

Rep. Steve Court, R-Mesa, who sponsored the bill, said he pushed for the
funding penalties to give schools and libraries more incentive to have strict
filters in place. If a school or library is notified that it is not in compliance,
it has 60 days to change the policy. After that, the state can withhold up to
10 percent of funding until the entity resolves the problem.

The law previously required schools and libraries to prevent minors from
“harmful material” on the Internet. Now, it specifies that it must block
minors from gaining access to “visual depictions that are child
pornography, harmful to minors or obscene.”

“It just makes it a little more clear and a little more stringent,” Court said.

Jeremy Giegle, president of Arizona Family Council, lobbied for the bill,
which modifies a law originally written more than 10 years ago.

“There’s been a lot of changes since then so we wanted to get the bill up to
date,” Giegle said. “If the schools are going to have more and more
technology, how are we going to keep our kids safe?”

Chris Kotterman, deputy director of policy development and government
relations for the Arizona Department of Education, said most schools seem
to follow the policy already, but it could still have an impact in terms of
funding.

“That’s a pretty significant penalty if you don’t comply for a long period of
time,” Kotterman said.

Craig Pletenik, spokesman for Phoenix Union High School District, said he’s
not worried about losing funding. He said the district was already in the
process of reviewing its policy, and its computer system updates the filters
constantly for potentially harmful websites.

He said the district has been following the Federal Communications
Commission’s Child Internet Protection Act since it was created in 2001.
The act requires schools and libraries to block or filter any content that is
obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors in order to receive certain
federal funding.

“I just don’t know that (the new state law) applies to us because we’ve
already been following these rules,” he said. “It’s just part of that whole
trend of trying to protect our kids, really everybody, but especially our kids
from all the garbage out there.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.