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MT Internet porn bill killed; panel chair apologizes

Democrats excluded from voting earlier
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Posted at 4:36 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 11:50:44-05

HELENA — Two days after a House committee approved a bill to regulate Internet pornography, without Democrats on the panel allowed to vote, it reconvened Monday and killed the measure – and the GOP chairman apologized for his actions that excluded Democrats on Saturday.

“I got frustrated and rammed it through, and that’s not right,” said Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell. “I should not have done that. … So I offer my apologies to all of the committee, that I led us down that road.”

Skees’ apology came moments after the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee voted 9-3 on Monday to kill House Bill 492, which said Internet companies can provide “hard-core” pornography only to customers who “opt-in” for the service.

It also would forbid anyone younger than 18 from accessing hard-core pornography on the Internet.

On Saturday afternoon, the panel had met on short notice to consider the bill, and Skees did not allow Democrats – and one Republican -- on the committee to vote. It passed the committee 7-0, with all votes from Republican members.

Skees said Monday he thought Democratic committee members, some of whom had been available online and then were not, were “playing a game with us on Saturday to try block us from having a quorum (on the committee).”

“I didn’t know what was going on … so I just jumped into the meeting quick, to get us out of here fast, because everyone was wanting to leave (for the weekend),” he said.

Skees said he met with GOP House leadership Sunday night about the Saturday process, leading to Monday’s decision to reconvene the committee and reconsider action on HB492.

“I just want to commit to both caucuses that, even though the process (Saturday) was correct, it’s not right to use the rules to squelch debate,” he said. “I want debate, and I welcome your comments, and it was the end of a long week. I don’t have any excuse as to why I did it.”

All panel members voted Monday to reconsider Saturday’s vote and then, after a brief discussion, voted 9-3 to kill the measure. Five Republicans and all four of the committee’s Democrats voted against the bill.

Rep. Kelly Kortum, D-Bozeman, said the measure has “noble intentions,” but that requiring Internet service providers to separate out a single type of content and offer it only to those who request it would cause delays for all other users.

“This would kill how the Internet works and take us basically back to a telegraph system, taking us back 100 years,” he said.

Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, she doesn’t want children being subjected to pornography, but that its structure wouldn’t prevent someone from going to another entry point on the Internet to get whatever they wanted. She voted against it.

Skees voted for the bill, saying he wanted to keep it alive to see if it could be made to work better, to achieve its goal.

The sponsor of the bill is Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula.