State Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, didn't face any opposition to his House Bill 153 in the last legislative session; it sailed through the state House of Representatives (99-0) and the state Senate (36-0). Gov. Bobby Jindal signed it into law in June and it became effective Aug. 1. But now it's the target of a First Amendment lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana and the Media Coalition.
The law requires websites to use an age-verification prompt for people accessing websites that contain "material harmful to minors." Violators can be fined up to $10,000. Online booksellers and publishers argue they would have to place an age-verification check to access their entire websites, which also offer content that isn't inappropriate for minors. The law defines "harmful" material as any "depiction, display, description, exhibition, or representation" of any kind of sex — but as written, a website with any of that material within it must run an age check before allowing entry.
The ACLU filed the suit Nov. 4 on behalf of New Orleans bookstores Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books, as well as the company Future Crawfish Paper, which publishes New Orleans' monthly alternative arts and culture magazine Antigravity. Publisher Dan Fox says the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund contacted him — the magazine is among a diminishing group of publications still running local and alternative comic strips. They also are printed online, along with the rest of the magazine's content.
Fox said the magazine is a "good example of material that's not expressly porn or totally G-rated ... but the way the law is constructed, we could be in violation of it."
ACLU staff attorney Esha Bhandari said the law "unconstitutionally burdens bookstores and publishers by limiting their rights to publish materially fully protected by the First Amendment," and it also burdens older teenagers "from accessing material they have a constitutional right to receive."