Filtering fervor fails to trickle down to states

State efforts to mandate filters on school and library Internet access have failed to win support from lawmakers this year, with at least seven state legislatures rejecting such laws.

The action comes as libraries and First Amendment groups challenge a federal law that would cut federal funding for schools and libraries that do not use Internet filters.

Most of the state proposals have stalled at the committee level and have failed to gain widespread support. In two states, North Carolina and Colorado, bills passed one chamber only to be stalled in the other.

In North Carolina, the Senate overwhelmingly passed filtering legislation that opponents say is clearly unconstitutional. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Lee, D-Orange, has been held up in the House for several months with no action.

Deborah Ross of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the proposal was purely a political issue for senators to use in the next election.

‘They want to be able to say they voted for it, but they all know it’s unconstitutional,’ Ross said.

The ACLU has urged its members to pressure legislators to kill the bill, but Ross said she is ready to challenge the plan in court if it becomes law. She said the bill contains language from federal laws that have already been struck down by courts, making a legal challenge a slam-dunk.

‘It’s like free money,’ she said of the legal fees the state would have to pay if it were to lose a court fight.

Filtering legislation had a similar fate in Colorado, where a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Fritz, R-Denver, died in the waning days of the legislature. The plan passed the House by a vote of 40-23, but did not make it through a Senate committee by the session’s May 9 close.

Similar bills introduced in Maine, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey have yet to gain support and will likely die at the committee level.

Meanwhile, the ACLU, the American Library Association and other groups are challenging the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act, which would deny federal technology assistance to libraries and schools that do not install Internet filters.

Preliminary motions in ALA v. U.S. will likely last through the fall with a trial set for February 2002. Although the law went into effect April 20, school and libraries have until July 2002 to install filtering software before they lose federal subsidies.

High Court to examine Children’s Online Protection Act

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in May to rule on the constitutionality of the Children’s Online Protection Act , a federal law that criminalizes commercial material considered ‘harmful to minors.’

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld in June 2000 a district court’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The government appealed the ruling in the case ACLU v. Ashcroft to the High Court.