INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WISH) — An Indiana Senate committee could vote next week on changes to a state law aimed at keeping registered sex offenders off social media websites. The proposal was debated Tuesday, just one week after a federal appeals court found a previous ban unconstitutional.
Senator Randy Head (R-Logansport) authored the measure, with support from Sen. Jim Merritt, (R-Indianapolis) and Sen. John Waterman, (R-Shelburn).
SB 347 would ban Class A felony child molesters and sex offenders convicted of child solicitation from sites like Facebook.
At a hearing in front of the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, Head said the measure is narrow enough to comply with the recent 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found Indiana's 2008 ban violated the First Amendment because it was too broad. The members of the appeals court wrote in their decision last week that "the goal of deterrence does not license the state to restrict far more speech than necessary to target the prospective harm."
“Instead of banning all social networking, we ban it to say you can't talk to children on those. But, we allow a parent to still talk to their child on the internet,” said committee chairman Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis).
Merritt said he opted to rewrite the law, rather than seek an appeal, in order to get a new protection in the books as soon as possible. State legislative counsel reviewed the ruling and decided the measure should hold in court.
“We want to make sure we can still get [child solicitors],” Young told 24-Hour News 8. “We'll narrow it down if that's what we have to do. And, as soon as we change that one section to allow a parent to talk to their child, that amendment should fix the decision from the 7th circuit.”
But Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said that the bar is higher than showing the new measure is not as broad as the 2008 law — it needs to also show why state laws against solicitation of children over the internet are not sufficient.
"Certainly there could be narrowly tailored statutes, but it doesn't mean that anything that is less broad than the now-overturned statute is by definition 'narrowly tailored,' " he said.
The ACLU represented a man who served three years for child molestation and other registered sex offenders in the successful challenging of the 2008 ban.
Merritt countered that the state has plenty of seemingly duplicative laws designed to avert horrendous crimes, including barring felons from owning guns, and said the sex offender statute should not be treated any differently.
A vote on the proposal was delayed so that additional clarification of legal language could be debated. It’s expected to be heard in the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law next week.
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