Rhode Island House Bill 7409 would have the Public Utility Commission create regulations to bar the display of material deemed “indecent.” It would have the PUC create regulations to determine what is reasonable for the display of “objectionable” materials. Finally, it would mandate that the PUC provide “adequate warnings” for material deemed not suitable for viewing by minors.
The legislation does not define “indecent” or “objectionable” nor does it give any information about who would be subject to the law or what type(s) of media could be barred if deemed indecent.
The House Committee on Corporations recommended the bill be held for further study.
The term “indecent” is undefined and does not follow the Miller/Ginsberg three-prong test, which determines the material that the Supreme Court said may be proscribed for minors. It is possible that the legislation intends to import the definition of “indecency” from Rhode Island’s criminal code, which largely complies with the Miller/Ginsberg test. However, that would make the legislation unnecessary and redundant. Rhode Island criminal code already bars the sale or exhibition to minors of indecent material and restricts the display of such material to a minor.
If the legislature intends to import the definition of “indecency” used by the Federal Communications Commission for regulating television and radio broadcasts, the legislation would be unconstitutional because the Supreme Court has ruled that the FCC standard of indecency is limited to over-the-air broadcasts on government-licensed airwarves.
Requiring “adequate warnings” is unconstitutional compelled speech. Until speech is found to be illegal by a court, it is considered to be fully protected and cannot be forced to include any description of the speech.
It is for courts to determine whether speech is legal or if it was appropriately displayed, not the Public Utility Commission. Due process protections in a judicial proceeding is important in determining whether speech is outside of First Amendment protection.
- On February 12, 2014, the bill was introduced  and referred to the House Committee on Corporations.
- Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition  to members of the committee on February 24, 2014, explaining the constitutional issues with the bill.
- On February 25, 2014, the committee held a hearing to consider the bill. After the hearing, the committee recommended the bill be held for further study.