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Free Expression

Maine Gives a Beat Down to a Bad Law

We are happy to report that a key committee of the Maine Legislature has voted to repeal the problematic marketing to minors law Chapter 230 that the Legislature passed last fall.  That law would have dramatically censored lawful online speech about minors, and would have curtailed Maine minors’ ability to access popular social networks and other online content, violating their First Amendment rights.

In addition to voting to repeal Chapter 230, the Joint Business, Research, and Economic Development Committee also decided to refrain from passing any additional legislation in its place.  This represents a significant turn-around for the Committee.  Previous drafts of LD 1677 more narrowly target predatory drug marketing practices aimed at young teens, but they continued to suffer from First Amendment and Commerce Clause defects.  Last week’s amendments still raised real concerns over the ability of ad-based websites and services, including Gmail, Facebook, and WebMD, to offer information and access to minors, and satisfactory revisions to the bill were difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

We appreciate the willingness of the sponsor of the replacement bill, Senator Elizabeth Schneider, to seriously consider the constitutional concerns raised in our comments and testimony (as well as those of our friends at the Maine Civil Liberties Union).  Schneider is appropriately concerned about protecting teens from predatory drug marketing, but she also clearly did not want to infringe on constitutional rights.  CDT agrees that the most egregious examples of predatory marketing are inappropriate, and we think that they can properly be the target of unfair trade practice actions by the Maine Attorney General.  We applaud Sen. Schneider and the Committee for seeking input from CDT, the MCLU, and other public interest and industry groups, and making the decision to protect the constitutional rights of minors and Maine residents.