Tenn. AV Bill Transfers Enforcement Power to Attorney General

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Lawmakers in Tennessee have amended a controversial age verification measure to transfer its enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security to the office of Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. The bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1792, requires age verification for websites that feature adult content and levies class C felony charges on the owners and operators of any such website that fails to verify the age of users. The move was meant to reduce financial costs.

The amendments advanced through the Senate Calendar Committee on April 2 and the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committe on March 27.

The amendment to Senate Bill 1792 drops the bill estimate to just less than $30,000 annually due to increased incarceration costs, reports conservative-leaning news wire service The Center Square. SB 1792 also requires sites to retain and anonymize age verification data for at least seven years, according to the bill's new fiscal note.

"The number of Class C felony convictions that may result from violations of the legislation’s requirements is unknown," reports the new fiscal note for the bill. "Given the widespread nature of such content on the internet and the number of sites that distribute it, it is assumed that the increase in such convictions could be significant."

The fiscal note indicates that state authorities only expect a single class C felony conviction each calendar year. 

"It is assumed that a majority of entities will either stop publishing such content or will take steps necessary to meet the requirements of this legislation," it says.

Republican state Sen. Becky Massey is the prime sponsor for SB 1792. Republican state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood introduced the House companion bill, House Bill 1614.

AVN previously reported that an earlier version of the bill would have cost the state of Tennessee and its Department of Homeland Security over $4 million in new spending with about $2 million each year thereafter. This is due to the department being tasked to setup a cyber forensics lab, staff the lab and license software.

By most accounts, the Tennessee age verification bill is the most extreme variation of this sort of legislation, given the felony charges. Indiana lawmakers abandoned a felony charge in their age verification measure that was eventually adopted and signed into law by the governor there.