Rhode Island Lawmakers Drop Porn Ban Following Cease And Desist From Elizabeth Smart

Rhode Island lawmakers are abandoning a controversial piece of legislation that would have charged residents a fee to view porn online following a cease and desist request from Elizabeth Smart, the Associated Press reported.

The bill, originally proposed earlier this month by Democratic state senators Frank Ciccone and Hanna Gallo, had ties to a group run by an internet provocateur who reportedly misled lawmakers about kidnapping victim and child safety activist Elizabeth Smart’s involvement in the organization.

Under the proposed law, Rhode Island would have required internet service providers operating in the state to block pornography and other “patently offensive material” by default. Any resident of the state that wanted to view such material would have to pay a $20 fee per device to remove the block and access the content.

The law would require those who want to bypass the block to send a written request to remove the censor, prove they are at least 18 years of age, and acknowledge a warning regarding the “potential danger of deactivating the digital blocking capability.” The $20 payment would go to the state’s council on human trafficking.

The bill was based on draft legislation known as the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Protection Act, which has been pushed through in a number of states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

While the bill has noble intentions, it also has a dubious origin. The Daily Beast traced the act back to Chris Sevier—also known as Mark Sevier and Chris Severe—a 40-year-old provocateur who is best known for his attempt to legally marry his computer as part of a protest against same-sex marriage.

Sevier has been using Elizabeth Smart’s name to promote the bill, listing it on his website as “the Elizabeth Smart Law.” Rhode Island lawmakers have also been naming Smart while promoting the bill. Earlier this week, Smart issued a cease and desist order against Sevier, demanding that he stop using her name to promote his draft legislation.

Elizabeth Smart Elizabeth Smart, pictured after a trial in 2010, issued a cease and desist over an anti-porn bill wrongly associated with her. Photo: Photo by Douglas C. Pizac/Getty Images

It’s not the first time Sevier has tried to claim support that he didn’t have. National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an anti-pornography advocacy group, demanded last year that he stop claiming to have worked with him.

“In light of recent nationwide reporting about the dubious origins of this bill, I have requested that the legislation be withdrawn from today’s Judiciary Committee hearing,” Ciccone said in a statement.

“Also, after learning that Elizabeth Smart was in no way involved with this legislation, and the fact that 18 other state legislatures have received the same erroneous information leading to similar bills being sponsored across the country, I am withdrawing this legislation from the 2018 Senate session,” Ciccone added.

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