South Dakota senators put the pornography industry first

A group of four Republicans in the South Dakota state Senate Judiciary Committee killed a bill Thursday that would require pornography sites to implement an ID check for age verification.

The four Republican senators, Michael Rohl, Helene Duhamel, Michael Walsh, and David Wheeler, provided the four votes necessary to prevent HB 1257 from advancing to the floor of the Senate. But Republican state Rep. Bethany Soye told the Washington Examiner in an interview that there will be an effort next week to “smoke out” the bill and force a floor vote in the Senate.

The four senators who voted to kill the bill claimed that a “private cause of action” that allowed anyone to bring a legal case against a noncompliant pornography site was unworkable and problematic and that the bill would not stop children from watching pornography.

The attempted “smoke out” motion is slated to take place next week and, if successful, would place the bill on the desk of Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), as the bill has already passed the state House with overwhelming support. If HB 1257 is signed, South Dakota would join several other states that have already enacted age verification laws.

But the fact that the state Senate is even in a position to have to use unusual parliamentary motions to force a vote on the bill is befuddling. In every state that has voted on age verification legislation, the bills have passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“I am shocked that my Senate colleagues are not willing to take action to protect children from the porn industry,” Soye said in the interview before noting that the dominance of the Republican Party in South Dakota means that candidates who have more liberal positions tend to run as Republicans in order to win office.

“When you’re campaigning, you can say whatever you want, but when it comes down to an actual vote like this, that’s where we see who you really are,” she said.

I reached out to the four lawmakers who voted the bill down to understand why they did it. Of the four, two responded. State Sen. Helene Duhamel said in an interview that she could still be swayed to vote for the bill but was concerned that it would not be effective.

“We have a really limited number of dollars in our state to spend, and I want to spend it on things that are effective, and I just don’t know if this one will be effective,” Duhamel told me. “It was a hard vote. I struggled with this one. It was hard.”

In an email statement, Rohl said that he voted against the bill because it “created a private right of action, doesn’t stop the problems of VPNs, has significant issues enforcing, requires no parental steps to try to stop it, doesn’t hold parents liable for negligent behavior (like we do with alcohol), would include social media sites like Twitter, and doesn’t ensure the privacy of South Dakota residents.”

“We heard testimony from the age verification company, that they would be able to sell the information collected to 3rd party companies,” he added, arguing that people who use their ID to verify their age and watch pornography could have their data sold.

In other words, Rohl is afraid that people who engage in the dirty and perverse habit of watching pornography will be exposed. Still, he said that he is looking for other ways to address the issue.

“We inten[d] to continue working on the subject to come with legislation that closes these loopholes and provides safety and security to all South Dakotans by looking at solutions that work for South Dakota, and not just legislation pushed by other states that may work for them, but not us,” Rohl said. “We don’t pass laws to provide an illusion of safety; we pass laws that actually work.”

If Rohl had bothered to do any research, he would know that these laws passed in other states have actually worked quite well, even if their success is not obvious.

Take Virginia, for example. After the state enacted age verification last year, Pornhub blocked access to the site for all IP addresses originating from the state. The only way around it is a more labor-intensive method through a virtual private network. In other words, the law is stopping children from accessing porn simply by angering the porn industry. It would be, and is, effective.


As Jon Schweppe, the policy director for the American Principles Project, noted to me, “Who could be against this? Who could possibly think it’s a problem to hold the porn industry responsible for how it exploits and intentionally harms children?”

With any courage, the South Dakota Senate will rectify the Judiciary Committee’s baffling error and put children first instead of the smut peddlers in the pornography industry.

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