The Herald Bulletin

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January 28, 2013

Indiana senators seek new social networking ban

INDIANAPOLIS — Two Republican lawmakers said Monday they have come up with a new way to keep registered sex offenders off social media, and announced their proposal a week after a federal appeals court found a previous ban unconstitutional.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn introduced a measure that would ban Class A felony child molesters and sex offenders convicted of child solicitation from sites such as Facebook.

They say 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."

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 believe these offenders are the biggest threat to children on social media websites," Merritt said.

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.

The proposal is expected to be heard in the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law.

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