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published thursday, february 9, 2006

lawmaker wants libraries to filter porn from kids

by chris moon
the capital-journal

an area lawmaker took a shot wednesday at the topeka and shawnee county public library and its policies regarding the use of computers by children.

rep. becky hutchins, r-holton, said the library was too liberal in letting kids surf the internet. those children run the risk of getting into pornographic web sites, she said.

"they leave it to the discretion of minors," hutchins told members of the house.

hutchins successfully added a provision to a library bill wednesday that would require public libraries to use internet filters on computers that are accessed by minors. she defined minors as any unmarried person younger than 18.

her amendment would allow children to use unfiltered computers with parental permission.

the measure was endorsed by the house on a 107-16 vote. the house will take final action on the overall bill today.

meanwhile, shawnee county's top library official dismissed the need for the measure.

"we're trying to fix a problem that ain't broke," said gina millsap, director of the topeka and shawnee county public library.

hutchins said the lawrence library uses internet filters on all of its computers.

under federal law, libraries receiving federal money must use filters. but the topeka and shawnee county public library doesn't. its funding comes from a countywide property tax.

"we're really aligning ourselves with the federal government," hutchins explained.

hutchins long has been an advocate of internet filters, proposing similar legislation in the past. hutchins' district covers all of jackson county and a portion of northern shawnee county.

meanwhile, millsap said, "libraries in kansas are already monitoring this very effectively."

in the 168,000-square-foot public library in shawnee county, filters are installed on computers in the children's section. throughout the rest of the building, web surfers are monitored by librarians and security guards.

rep. eber phelps, d-hays, said he recently took a tour of the topeka and shawnee county public library and was shown its surveillance room, which monitors computers.

"it was somewhere on the level of what we would see at lansing state prison," phelps said.

he called hutchins' amendment "a reaction to a rumor" that the library was being lax in keeping inappropriate material off of publicly owned computers.

"put some trust in these people who are running our libraries," phelps said.

hutchins said she knew of no confirmed cases of children accessing pornography or other inappropriate web sites at the library.

"do i have proof? no. but i've heard it," she said.

millsap, meanwhile, called the internet "a microcosm of the world."

"people are concerned about the inappropriate activities," she said. "but like the world, it has wonderful things on there, too."

and as far as filters go, millsap said: "filters are never 100 percent foolproof. there is no substitute for parental supervision."

but rep. mary pilcher cook, r-shawnee, said the measure was needed, especially in light of the perceived increase in internet predators.

rep. jim ward, d-wichita, attached a provision to the final bill that wouldn't require libraries to follow the mandate if it brings extra costs that aren't covered by the state.

"we need to put our money where our mouth is," he said.

hutchins said internet filtering programs shouldn't cost libraries extra.

chris moon can be reached at (785) 233-7470 or chris.moon@cjonline.com.

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