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Anti-porn bill inches closer to governor’s desk.

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A bill making it easier for pornography producers to be sued by those who feel they were damaged by porn when they were young has passed its next-to-last test in the Utah Legislature.

But more lawsuits isn’t the number one goal behind the bill, sponsor Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, told the House Judiciary Committee Friday.

Weiler’s bill exempts porn producers who take steps to inform viewers that X-rated content can be harmful to minors. He hopes the escape clause will cause the sites to warn visitors in a way similar to pop-ups on alcohol and tobacco sites.

“I think that’s the real potential impact of this bill, rather than having a bunch of lawsuits that are filed and won,” Weiler told the committee. The panel passed the measure to the full House in a 8-3 vote.

Weiler maintains the extra protections are needed in the digital age.

“In 2017, we’re not talking about a Playboy centerfold. We’re talking about high-speed internet connections. We’re talking about hardcore sex videos” that sometimes include gang rapes and other kinds of violence against women, Weiler told the committee.

Utah last year became the first state in the country to officially call pornography a public health crisis in a legislative resolution, which is symbolic and lacks the force of law.

“This is my followup to last year,” Weiler said. He says he wants to try to protect children, rather than tell adults what to do.

Backers of the bill, including the Utah Parent-Teacher Association and the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, say porn is addictive and can hurt marriages and provoke sexual violence and depression.

Others disagree. The American Psychological Association (APA) says watching porn can be a compulsion, but research has yet to show it is addictive. The Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry trade group, has called the Utah bill "old-fashioned morals bill, not one grounded in science."

Instead of restricting pornography, lawmakers should bolster Utah’s sexual education classes, which now are abstinence-focused, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, told the panel.

Utah has made headlines in the past for its high rate of porn consumption. A Harvard University economics study eight years ago found Utah was the state with the highest per-capita porn consumption, with a small lead over Mississippi.

Weiler rejects the finding, pointing instead to other analyses that put Utah toward the back of the pack. And he notes other states also are joining the fight. Tennessee and Virginia have passed similar laws this year.

“We are a pioneer in the anti-pornography battle,” Weiler said.

The committee tweaked the bill before passing it on to the House. It removed a provision allowing the winning party in a lawsuit to collect attorney’s fees, saying it might prevent people from suing in the first place for fear of losing and having to pay large sums.

The bill awaits approval from the full House and governor.

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