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Lawmakers debating bills that would ban minors from reading ‘sexually oriented’ digital books

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Legislation that would prevent minors from accessing digital books that include “sexually oriented” content in public libraries and schools continues to be debated by Mississippi lawmakers.

According to legislators, Senate Bill 2346 would enact two parts included in the bill’s wording to protect children from being able to see sexually illicit material.

The first part would require websites that have at least one-third of their content containing pornography to use an age-verification system.

Several other states, including Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah, have already enacted similar laws requiring corporate database vendors to filter content.

Those who are convicted of knowingly or intentionally publishing material deemed harmful to minors on the internet without age-verification methods will be subject to fines and jail time, with the first offense requiring a fine of less than $5,000 or six months in county jail. If previously convicted, the individual may face fines totaling between $2,500 and $10,000 or be imprisoned for up to a year.

An additional bill that would require age verification to access online pornography has also been passed in the legislature. House Bill 1315, which does not include SB 2346’s wording to ban any age from accessing sexually oriented materials in public libraries, has been returned for concurrence.

The second portion of the bill would require school districts and public libraries to go into contract with an internet service provider that uses safeguards to prevent minors from accessing sexually illicit material.

SB 2346 outlines that books will be considered sexually oriented if “the material contains representations or descriptions, actual or simulated, of masturbation, sodomy, excretory functions, lewd exhibition of the genitals or female breasts, sadomasochistic abuse (for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification), homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or the breast or breasts of a female for the purpose of sexual stimulation, gratification or perversion.”

Several lawmakers have expressed concern over small details in the bill, with Representative Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, mentioning that the second part of the bill does not include an age limitation on who would be able to access the books.

“It specifically says that any books that depict or deal with matters of sex or materials that are sexually oriented, and these are digital books, so something for your Kindle would be prohibited. So, we would be banning any book that references sex for an adult in all public libraries in any digital format,” Yates stated on the House floor.

House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Representative Nick Bain, R-Corinth, explained during an interview on The Gallo Radio Show that a portion of the bill may need further adjustments before heading to the governor’s desk.

“We need to tweak that for the public library section to make it under the age of 21 or 18, probably 18,” Bain said. “The way it was written was any person, and I think that probably goes a little far, but the intent of it is to protect children and protect minors from sexually illicit materials.”

At this time, the legislation has been amended and passed in the House 83-29 and will now head back to the Senate for another vote.

“It’s amazing what kids can be exposed to and even this isn’t going to prevent them from being exposed to stuff,” Bain stated. “There’s still mountains and mountains of stuff out there.”

The bill states that any individual who is convicted of distributing the prohibited devices will face up to $10,000 or be imprisoned for up to one year. Those previously convicted may be fined up to $50,000 or be held in prison for up to a year.

A convicted corporation, company, partnership, firm, association, business, establishment, organization, or other legal entity other than an individual may be fined up to $10,000, while those who are previously convicted may face up to $50,000 in fines.

The legislation will not apply to news-gathering organizations or any physical books.

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