Ohio Governor Will Sign H.B. 8 on May 6

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Ohio Governor Bob Taft will publicly sign House Bill 8 on May 6, 2002, almost three months after the bill passed the state’s legislature. The proposed legislation amends Ohio’s sex offense law to include computer-based material that is deemed harmful to minors. There is concern among booksellers and others in the industry that the law could be construed to include material with sexual content sold on their Web sites.

"Assuming the bill is signed by the governor, we fully expect to file a challenge," said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, a trade association that defends businesses’ First Amendment right to produce and sell books, magazines, recordings, videotapes, and videogames. Plaintiffs in a legal challenge to H.B. 8 would include local Ohioans and businesses, at least one Ohio bookstore, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

Horowitz pointed out that similar laws in Michigan, New York, Arizona, and New Mexico have all been struck down. For example, a number of plaintiffs, including ABFFE and the Freedom to Read Foundation, challenged an Arizona statute that criminalized the intentional transmission over the Internet of materials considered to be "harmful to minors." On February 19, 2002, U.S. District Judge Alfredo C. Marquez enjoined the statute, and declared it to be unconstitutional under both the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. (For previous coverage on the Arizona case and H.B. 8, click here.)

However, attorneys for Governor Taft are confident that its Internet "harmful to minors" statute is constitutionally sound, according to Joe Andrews, spokesperson for the governor. "The governor and our attorneys have reviewed the content of the bill and feel that it is constitutional," he told Bookselling This Week. "By signing it, [Taft] feels it is a good bill, and that it will do what the people who drafted it intended it to do."

Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) intended that H.B. 8 close the loophole in Ohio law to make it possible to convict offenders for using the Internet to solicit sex from a minor. But according to Media Coalition’s Horowitz, there is no language in H.B. 8 that specifically mentions luring minors. Instead, the statute describes obscene material as including sexually explicit materials, cursing, and the glorification of crime. --David Grogan