(AP) — Indiana lawmakers rushed Tuesday to narrow the scope of a
court-overturned ban on social networking for sex offenders, but it wasn't
clear whether the reworked proposal would be able to withstand future
legal challenges over free-speech rights.
The bill the
Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law unanimously sent to the
Senate floor Tuesday rewrites a complete ban dating from 2008 that was
overturned by a federal court on Jan. 23. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in Chicago said the old law was too broad and violated freedom of
legislators rewrote the ban earlier this session, but critics said it
would still virtually ban offenders from using social media, even if they
don't try to directly contact children and their past crimes had nothing
to do with the Internet. The amended version approved Tuesday applies only
to offenders convicted of child-related sex crimes who knowingly use
social networks, instant messaging or chat rooms to communicate with
children below age 16.
narrower now than it was," said Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, the bill's
Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said he
still wasn't sure the bill was narrow enough. For one thing, the bill
would penalize offenders who have already finished their time in prison
and on probation.
presuming that a person who's been convicted of the offense 20 years ago
could not possibly be rehabilitated over it and have a legitimate
conversation with somebody below the age of 16," Landis said. "You can
meet them face-to-face privately and have a conversation if you want, but
you can't do it remotely."
long allowed states to place restrictions on convicted sex offenders who
have completed their sentences, controlling where many live and work and
requiring them to register with police. But those laws don't deal with
free speech, Landis said.
Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled last June that the state has a strong
interest in protecting children and found that social networking had
created a "virtual playground for sexual predators to lurk."
Civil Liberties Union of Indiana had filed a class-action suit on behalf
of a man who served three years for child exploitation and other sex
offenders who are restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on
contended that even though the Indiana law is only intended to protect
children from online sexual predators, the ban prevents sex offenders from
using the websites for legitimate political, business and religious
have barred similar laws in Nebraska and Louisiana. Louisiana legislators
passed a new, narrower law last year that requires sex offenders to
identify themselves on Facebook and similar sites. A federal judge struck
down part of Nebraska's law last October.