Age Verification Bills Proposed in Delaware, Illinois

DOVER, Del./SPRINGFIELD, Ill.Age verification legislation in two U.S. states has been introduced by Republican state lawmakers just days after a Texas federal judge blocked a bill similarly requiring age verification in order to access pornographic websites on grounds that it is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment. The immediate bills face state legislatures in Delaware and Illinois. 

Delaware state Rep. Mike Smith of the city of Newark introduced House Bill (HB) 265

Illinois state Sen. Erica Harriss of the village of Glen Carbon introduced Senate Bill (SB) 2950. 

Both bills are similarly structured to laws implemented in states like Louisiana, Utah, Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. 

Upon review of Rep. Smith’s HB 265 draft, the language is a carbon copy of civil liability and penalty enforcement outlined in legislation Louisiana’s government implemented on January 1. 

The language indicates that “jurisdiction of actions under this section shall be in Superior Court.” 

Such language could be interpreted to mean that “an action under this section may be brought by the Attorney General [of Delaware] or any person, parent, or guardian of any person whose age was not verified.” While the language in HB 265 stipulates the right of the attorney general to bring civil actions, it is additionally structured to emulate a potential “bounty” system for private citizens who wish to file actions against websites that fail to follow the statute once it is passed.

Violators of these rules would face a $250 fine per violation. The potential statute could grant the suing parties reprieve by obligating violators of the age verification requirements to pay related costs for harm caused to an individual, like a minor, and to cover legal fees. Smith’s bill would not cover internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon, meaning that the requirements for age verification would only be applied to an interactive computer service and commercial entity that is reportedly targeting minors with “harmful material.” Smith adds that this type of material features depictions of “sadomasochistic abuse,” inferring all BDSM is non-consensual behavior.

AVN reported previously on Utah’s so-called “bounty law” structured to enforce its mandate for age verification software for adult content websites through private civil enforcement actions. Smith’s bill appears to permit the filing of private civil enforcement actions and actions taken by state officials, like the Attorney General’s office. Penalties are civil law matters, not criminal.

Sen. Harriss’ SB 2950 is likely to be similarly structured to the Delaware measure. At this point, no official draft has been released to the public because it hasn’t been officially introduced to the state legislature. Documentation available to the general public is found on the Illinois Senate Republicans caucus website, where Harriss announced her proposal through a press release last week. “Our youth are incredibly vulnerable on the internet, and they have access to a wide variety of adult content, some of which can be harmful, hurtful, and inappropriate,” said Harriss in the release. “I filed this legislation to help protect children from accessing explicit material intended for adult viewership by requiring more accountability from pornographic websites.”   

Both bills require platforms to adopt “reasonable age verification methods.” Texas House Bill 1181, the law that was blocked by Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra, features the same language. It is worth noting that Harriss and Smith both infer that adult content platforms purposefully target minors, despite the fact that this is a misconception used by anti-porn groups.

The Free Speech Coalition, an advocacy group for the adult industry, has not taken a position on these two bills and doesn’t track them currently. Sen. Harriss intends to introduce SB 2950 in the Illinois state legislature’s fall veto session or in the regular session next spring.