From restricting sex offenders’ Facebook activity to outlawing online impersonation, social networking sparked several new laws this year.
A new law banning sex offenders from Facebook garnered the most attention since it drew the governor’s backing and revamps a law thrown out by a federal judge for being overly broad.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana brought the successful challenge of the ban last year.
This year, the organization’s leader said she is troubled by another measure that became law just weeks ago.
House Bill 249 — now Act No. 385 — requires sex offenders to disclose their crimes when they create profiles on social networking websites such as Facebook.
They also must reveal the jurisdiction of their conviction, a description of their appearance and their residential address.
ACLU Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said the law is so broad that it could apply to a recipe-swapping forum.
“It’s a gross violation of privacy. It serves no useful purpose,” she said.
State Rep. Jeff Thompson, who sponsored the legislation, said sex offenders often create multiple Facebook profiles under fictitious names to lure children.
He said the law is designed to arm prosecutors with added tools and to expand the notice sex offenders already must give their neighbors when they move into a new neighborhood.
Thompson, R-Bossier City, said sex offenders now can come into people’s homes via the Internet.
“These are not garden-variety, ‘Oh, I’m at Mardi Gras and I had a little too much fun,’ ” he said. “These are serious crimes.”
Another law imposes jail time and fines for a prank that victimized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s deputy chief of staff, Kristy Nichols, during the session.
Someone created a Facebook profile using Nichols’ name and posted: “I notice a lot of you disagree with the Governor’s reform, but rest assured it will be a lot better than being unemployed. We are watching you.” The post made its away onto pages frequented by state government workers.
House Bill 96 — now Act No. 375 — makes online impersonation punishable by a $250 to $1,000 fine and/or 10 days to six months in jail.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Helena Moreno, said her legislation was inspired, not by Nichols, but by a friend who became the victim of emails and a Facebook profile created under his name.
She said Nichols had the resources of the Governor’s Office to deal with her problem. Ordinary people, Moreno said, can spend months undoing damage to their reputations.
“It happens every day. It’s a serious problem for the people who are victims of this,” said Moreno, D-New Orleans.
Yet another bill — House Bill 236 or Act No. 384 — requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to create teaching materials on Internet and cellphone safety. The instruction is supposed to include how to safely use social networking websites, chat rooms, email, bulletin boards and instant messaging.
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, declined to be interviewed about her legislation.
Instead, she sent a written synopsis of why she sought the safety law. Hodges wrote that she learned about the prevalence of sex offenders while campaigning and wanted to put a law in place to protect children.
Barry Landry, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the Legislature did not carve out the $20,000 needed to hire a contractor to create the teaching materials called for in the law.
He said the agency is reviewing available resources and will provide links to schools in the near future.