A proposal to give citizens and law enforcement agencies the right to initiate civil actions against businesses selling obscene material was presented this week to an interim committee of the Utah Legislature.
Sponsored by Rep. Reese Hunter, R-Salt Lake, the "moral nuisance" bill is intended to hit so-called "adult businesses" in the pocketbook by imposing severe financial penalties."The significance of this legislation is that it gives law enforcement one more tool to control obscenity," Hunter said. If citizens are dissatisfied with law enforcement efforts, the bill would permit them to petition for an injunction to stop the sale of pornography.
However, a citizen civil action would have to be accompanied by a surety bond of at least $500 to cover court costs should the suit be dismissed. As a further safeguard against spurious citizen suits, unsuccessful plaintiffs would also be assessed the other side's legal expenses, Hunter added.
Former Idaho assistant attorney general Gordon Nielson told the committee that the proposed law would be effective because pornographic businesses would face forfeiture of their property and a permanent injunction.
Since the civil complaints don't carry criminal penalties - such as a jail sentence - politicians, citizens, prosecutors and courts may be more willing to challenge pornographers, Hunter added.
"We're not talking about what people do in private homes, but what goes on in certain businesses in our community," Hunter said. "A person may think twice about selling pornography if he knows that he will pay the price."
Hunter said he decided to sponsor the legislation because of the proliferation of adult businesses.
"I see pornography all over the country, and I've had complaints from many people who are concerned about it spreading. We've had it relatively good here in Utah, but there are businesses here that verge on hard core."
His bill defines a moral nuisance as a business that deals in materials found to be "injurious to health or morals" as well as indecent and offensive. Courts would determine what fits the definition.
Nielson said the proposed law is based on terminology taken from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller vs. California, which established the principle of community standards in pornography cases.
The committee took no action on the draft legislation, but agreed to study it and discuss it further at future meetings.