On Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to require manufacturers to have the adult content filter automatically activated on phones and tablets sold in Alabama.
House Bill 298 (HB298), the Protection of Minors from Unfiltered Devices Act, is sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville). The bill would require manufacturers to enable the existing filters on smartphones and other devices blocking adult content.
"We took prayer out of school, and then we sent porn to school with every child on the cell phone; that's what we done in this country," Sells said.
The bill would apply to smartphones, tablets and smartwatches — anything activated through a mobile carrier. The settings already exist on current phones and tablets; the bill would only require that phones come with the setting already turned on. After setting up a password to unlock the system, the setting can be turned off or left on, depending on the user's preference.
The bill received broad support from both sides of the aisle, with a handful of lawmakers expressing concern over a provision allowing private rights of action against manufacturers that did not abide by the bill. Lawmakers also questioned how it would affect the state by compelling businesses to adjust their procedures specifically for Alabama.
Sells offered an amendment that clarified that class action lawsuits could not be brought against manufacturers. It also explained that retailers could not be held liable for damages for violations.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), while ultimately voting in favor of the bill, expressed concern that the legislation would create additional costs for the consumer.
"I do see an opportunity for there to be an increased cost for consumers, specifically in Alabama," Daniels said. "Not necessarily knowing what that cost will be."
"I'm willing to pay a little extra money," Sells retorted. "I just paid $800 for this little phone. So if it's going to cost me $810, and it's going to protect children, I'm all for it."
State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) spoke in favor of the bill, saying it was vital in protecting children from viewing harmful content.
"Every parent is not technologically sound to be able to say, 'All you have to do is go inside of the phone and you can put these filters in, and you can put these blocks in yourself,'" Bracy said. "Everybody just can't do it. In my case, some people may not even think to do it."
"A kid could be playing a game on a phone, and it starts taking them down this rabbit hole where they start seeing things that children just shouldn't be able to see, all because of the innocence of the parent buying this device," he added.
Republican lawmaker David Faulkner said he did not support Sells' legislation as a whole but supported the spirit in which it was put forward.
"While I don't agree with your bill, the exact legislation. I agree with your goals very much," Faulkner said.
He continued, "While I may disagree with the exact way that you're going, I do thank you for standing up for an issue that is a crisis."
The bill passed with a vote of 70-8, with 24 abstentions.
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