Bill backed by Georgia Republicans seeks internet filters for schools

Georgia lawmakers will consider a proposal to make schools use technology that filters pornography and other material deemed obscene from school internet services and devices.

The Republican-backed legislation was introduced Thursday with the support of Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, who as speaker pro tem is the second-ranked member of the state House.

Jones said last fall that she was working on the bill as a national furor over books with sexual content reached Georgia schools. She said at the time that children should be shielded from “age inappropriate” materials both in the classroom and out.

Jones wrote House Bill 1217 with Rep. Chris Erwin, R-Homer, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, where it will likely get a hearing before a vote by the full House. The chairman of that committee, Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, also has signed onto the bill.

The legislation calls on the Georgia Department of Education to provide specifications for technology that can filter obscenity and notify administrators when students access it. The agency would be authorized to develop a list of contractors who can provide the necessary technology to the state’s 180 school districts.

Child pornography and the other obscene or “harmful” material to be blocked are defined over several of the 10 pages of the bill. School districts could lose a portion of their state funding for failing to implement the required measures.

Another bill that would target obscenity has already passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in a House committee.

Senate Bill 226, introduced last year, would streamline the process for removing books from schools.

Currently, objections are handled by school committees that include librarians. The proposal would make school principals handle complaints, giving parents the option to appeal to the school board.

HB 1217 is a different take on legislation Jones once opposed. In 2020, several House Republicans were pushing legislation that would have enhanced penalties against any “person affiliated” with a school — including a guest speaker — who knowingly shared materials considered obscene with minors.

Jones explained late last year that she was concerned about penalizing educators who might have inadvertently or unintentionally exposed students to inappropriate material.

Rep. Karen Mathiak, R-Griffin introduced that 2020 bill, and she has signed onto Jones’ new legislation.