Priority legislation of Gov. Greg Abbott to expand rural broadband internet has hit a roadblock, as the two chambers of the Legislature are split over how to deal with pornography.
Earlier this year when House Bill 5 by State Rep. Trent Ashby (R–Lufkin) was brought to the House floor for a vote, the chamber approved an amendment by State Rep. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford) that would prioritize internet providers that block internet pornography by default.
When the bill moved to the Senate, however, its sponsor, State Sen. Robert Nichols (R–Jacksonville), stripped the amendment. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick placed the bill on a fast-track calendar, passing the bill without any debate.
Now, the two sides will duke it out in a conference committee.
After the House voted to reject the Senate’s changes to the bill, both chambers will now attempt to come to an agreement, with representatives from both chambers set to debate the issue in the coming weeks before the session concludes at the end of the month.
Proponents of rural broadband expansion say the bill is largely designed to help children in rural areas access the internet for education.
That’s why supporters say the amendment makes sense.
“If you try and go into an adult bookstore and an adult movie theater, they’re going to check your ID and make sure you’re 18 years old. But somehow or another, the internet became a huge loophole for online pornography,” Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project, told KWTX.
“Right now, we have a real problem, and that problem is the fact that an 11-year-old with a smartphone has access to unlimited amounts of hardcore, violent pornography, and there’s no one stopping them,” he added.
Ashby, however, has argued the amendment could have free-speech implications.
“It would essentially require internet service providers to be a decision-maker on what constitutes pornographic content, which we all know is a legal standard that courts have wrestled with under the First Amendment for centuries,” said Ashby.
Given the bill’s status as an emergency priority of Gov. Greg Abbott, the legislation is considered a “must pass” in the Texas Capitol. The coming days will tell whether either chamber will concede on the issue or tank the bill entirely.