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California Net bills approved

Lawmakers pass new cyberspace regulations, including criminalizing the online seduction of minors and mandating digitized campaign records.

Before California wrapped up its legislative session yesterday, lawmakers passed a handful of new cyberspace regulations, including criminalizing the online seduction of minors and mandating digitized campaign finance records.

The Golden State has introduced more than 50 bills this year relating to the Internet and computers. The state legislature's passage of four Net bills this session comes as no surprise, as the state's economy relies heavily on the high-tech and information industries.

Republican Rep. Steve Kuykendall's bill won strong approval in the wake of reports about underage surfers running away from home to adults they met on the Net, as well as stories of children being pursued by sexual predators online.

If Gov. Pete Wilson signs the bill into law, it would be a crime to use email to sexually entice or arouse a person who was "known" to be under the age of 18.

A similar provision was struck down by the Supreme Court's Communications Decency Act decision this year. The court rejected the federal law, which made it a felony to use the Net to "knowingly" display or send "indecent" material that could be seen by a minor. Free-speech advocates drummed up opposition to Kuykendall's bill as well.

But Kuykendall says the law he drafted is different from the CDA. "The Supreme Court decision doesn't affect what I intend to accomplish," he said in statement. "Sex offenders need to be punished, and sex offenders who use the Internet to find their next victim are no different."

Legislation to increase government services and public disclosure was also sent to Wilson late last week. He has until October 12 to sign the bills.

One bill requires state agencies to send requested public documents as well as communicate with citizens via email whenever possible. Drafted by Republican Sen. Rob Hurtt, the proposed law allows agencies to recover "direct costs" incurred to send the messages. It is not clear how much people will be charged for receiving agency emails, which drew some criticism as the bill edged toward passage.

Another bill on the governor's desk will bring the state Department of Motor Vehicles into the digital age. Under AB 43, the DMV will have to set up a Net site by January 1, 1999, to conduct transactions if the department determines it is cheaper than making drivers turn in various forms in person.

On Thursday the legislature approved Democratic Sen. Betty Karnette's bill, which would require political campaigns to report their contributions online by June 1, 2000, if their total contributions exceed $100,000 in primary elections and $50,000 in general elections. The bill also requires that all last-minute contributions and expenditures be posted online within 24 hours.

"Posting campaign reports on the Internet will finally result in the full public disclosure of who is contributing money to political candidates," Karnette said in a statement.

Passage of Karnette's bill is being heralded as a first. "To my knowledge, California will be the first state to actually require that [campaign] reports themselves be transmitted online," said Larry Sokol, a staffer for Karnette. "Most of the other states and local entities that have contributions on the Net start in hard copy" and then enter them into a database.

But states such as Hawaii, for example, give candidates a software program to upload filings online. The state is pushing for the adoption of a nationwide system that lets all state candidates directly file online using a standard electronic format. (See related story)