A livestreamed presentation about parents protecting their kids from inappropriate online material featured perhaps the most NC-17 words and images of this year’s legislative session, as some Alaska lawmakers emerged from Easter break with a revived vigor for engaging in the culture wars.
There might not be enough votes for either side to win any battles to enact new laws, but legislators in the Republican-led House are discussing the merits of a society that limits minors to an hour of online time a day and arrests school officials for allowing “porn” in libraries.
“There are library books within the Anchorage School District that are pornography,” said Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican, at the end of a two-hour House Judiciary Committee meeting Monday where an explicit 92-slide presentation “Parenting in the Digital Age” was featured. She said legal officials have told her nothing can be done legislatively because it’s a local issue.
“How come how come we as a society can’t give the books to the police and say it’s pornography…how is it we can’t hold those individuals accountable or arrested?” Allard said.
The bipartisan Senate majority of nine Democrats and eight Republicans, meanwhile, is moving in the other direction by advancing legislation implementing LGBTQ+ protections, and declaring the votes don’t exist to pass controversial cultural proposals favored by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and some House Republicans.
One of the most controversial of those proposals, Dunleavy’s so-called “parental rights” bill (House Bill 105) that puts strict limit on sex and gender references in public schools, is scheduled to get another public hearing by the House Education Committee at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. A similar hearing earlier this month lasted five hours, with about 90% of the roughly 125 people testifying opposing the bill.
Also, the House Judiciary Committee, which heard Monday’s presentation about children and online content, is scheduled to hear another bill Wednesday by Dunleavy (HB 68) that he has said toughens enforcement on sex trafficking and opponents argue is intended to criminalize sex workers.
The parenting presentation was narrated by Lt. Ryan Browning of the Homer Police Department, who has presented the slideshow to community groups recently.
“Today’s presentation will include many mature topics, so for parents who are watching their child discretion is strongly advised,” Allard said before the presentation began.
Browning said taking on material inappropriate for youths means adults need to talk about such things frankly.
“I’m going to talk about the things we don’t want to talk about and I’m going to say the quiet things out loud,” he said, adding sexually explicit words likely to be used. “Whatever bandage we had on the subject I’m going to tear it off.”
While he spent much of the presentation talking about abusive situations that have resulted from youths using social media and playing online video games, he said his intent wasn’t to spread fear and discourage all use of such material.
“I’m not going to say the internet and social media is the worst thing in the world,” he said. “But there needs to be some limits and supervision.”
Ultimately, Browning said, “my one goal with this” involves parents discussing with their kids the various concerns mentioned.
“What happens when our kid walks into somebody else’s game and all of a sudden that Lego player has a raging erection or people in that game are having sex with each other?” he said. “Does your kid know who to talk to or what to do when that happens?”
In addition to seemingly child-friendly game titles such as Roblox, which has resulted in some child sexual abuse incidents by predators, Browning also referred to titles such as “Grand Theft Auto,” which for more than two decades has been one of the most villainized franchises of anti-porn and anti-violence advocates.
Browning also discussed a lengthy list of phrases youths use to discuss sex and other matters. He also showed images of suggestively explicit emojicons.
While Allard expressed concern about legislators having limited ability to control library content, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Sarah Vance, a Homer Republican, said legislation limiting minors’ online access is being drafted.
“You’re not going to be the one only talking about it any more,” she told Browning.
Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat, asked Browning if a statewide policy limiting all children to one hour of screen time would be effective in achieving its goals.
“Something is better than nothing because what we’re doing isn’t working,” Browning said.
The slideshow presentation was followed a day later in the House by a hearing on HB 99 by Jennie Armstrong, an Anchorage Democrat, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. A companion version of that bill is advancing in the Senate, but is making much slower progress in the House.
Among the questions raised Tuesday was a provision regarding gender policies in buildings, with Tom McKay, an Anchorage Republican, asking if it applies to government facilities including schools.
“Would that include bathrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms where you could have a situation where a biological male decides he a female and he enters the girls locker room shower room or bathroom — where, for example, my granddaughter is — and he undresses in front of her. Is that what could possibly happen under this legislation because if that is the case obviously I am against it.”
Robert Corbisier, executive director for the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, said government buildings would be included in the bill’s provisions, but with such scenarios “this is not a circumstance we have faced before and I don’t how we would handle that.”
Armstrong, as the bill’s sponsor, told McKay she “also is opposed to indecent exposure.” Tristan Walsh, one of her staff members presenting details of the bill, said widespread research shows “transgender people are just looking for a place to pee” and incidents such as McKay’s example are exceedingly rare, with transgender individuals much more likely to be victims of violence.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org