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GOP lawmakers push to require age verification to view online porn

Starting Sunday, commercial porn sites in Louisiana will have to verify their users are 18 or older or risk being sued.

Verification can be done using government-issued IDs or public or private records from a mortgage, education or employment document, according to the bill. The bill, known as Act 440, was introduced by Republican state legislator Laurie Schlegel in February and signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards in June.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced similar legislation: The Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net Act. The act asks that the Federal Communications Commission enforce regulations for commercial porn sites to prevent children from accessing the content.

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How did the child porn access bill in Louisiana come about?

In addition to being a state representative, Schlegel is a licensed professional counselor and a certified sex addiction therapist who specializes in treating people who struggle with pornography and sex addiction.

She was inspired to introduce the bill after hearing a discussion singer/songwriter Billie Eilish had with radio host Howard Stern. Eilish said that she started watching porn at 11 years old and that it affected her brain and intimate relationships, CNN reported at the time.

Schlegel said the interview made her want to look further into the influence of porn and do her part to help children, she said.

"I don't think a lot of parents know what's on the internet," she said. "It's just a click away for kids. … I always like to tell people: 'This is not your daddy's Playboy. What kids are seeing on the internet is extremely, extremely graphic, hardcore pornography."

How will the bill in Louisiana be enforced?

Though many explicit websites require users to enter their date of birth, anyone can lie about that, Schlegel said.

The bill requires that commercial sites where pornographic material makes up more than 33.3% of total content will be held to the age-verification standard.

"It creates a civil cause of action against the commercial entities that publish and distribute material harmful to minors on the internet that don't verify the ages of the users first," she said. "Someone can sue if they're not doing this."

She also wants to take privacy into account.

Commercial porn sites cannot keep identifying information after users access their websites, the bill states.

"Pornography companies, I think they're one of the biggest miners of data," she said. "I made sure in my bill ... if anybody were to hold someone's data throughout this process, then someone could sue."

Schlegel said the bill isn't based on opinion alone. Peer-reviewed research has shown that pornography harms young people and can lead to higher anxiety and depression, riskier sex, victimization and aggression.

"The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11 years old, and actually, some (research) suggests it's even earlier than that," she said. "These are the people I'm trying to protect."

What about age verification at the federal level?

Sen. Mike Lee's SCREEN Act asks that the Federal Communications Commission require pornographic websites to adopt age verification technology.

Websites can choose their own means of age verification as long as it meets the FCC's standards. Other stipulations of the bill call for the FCC to give companies proper warning and ample opportunity to fix violations.

“Every day, we're learning more about the negative psychological effects pornography has on minors," Lee said in a news release. "We require age verification at brick-and-mortar shops. Why shouldn't we require it online?”

Schlegel from Louisiana wanted to make one thing clear: She's not trying to limit porn that adults can access.

"This bill is strictly about protecting children," she said. "It's going to be up to the pornography companies to comply and, obviously, how people will hold them accountable. If children are getting access to it ... they can sue."

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.