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But will they know it when they see it?

Mark Miloscia

Mark Miloscia

The definitions are so often what trip you up.

It was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who remarked in a 1964 decision that he would not “attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it . . .” The know-it-when-I-see-it standard, though, never quite works for state laws, which creates no end of difficulties.

A group of Washington legislators, evidently led by Representative Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, has the idea of helping fill a bit of the state revenue deficit with a porn tax of 18.5% on goods and services. That concept may not get too much criticism, apart from the affected industry. Buy how do you define exactly what is covered?

Here’s the attempt in House Bill 2103:

“Adult entertainment materials and services” means those entertainment materials and services that are primarily oriented to an interest in sex, including but not limited to magazines, photographs, motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, cable television services, telephone services, audiotapes, computer programs, and paraphernalia. “Adult entertainment materials and services” does not include (a) books or magazines that contain no photographs or other graphics; or (b) motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, or cable television services that do not contain any explicit sex of the type that would be rated “X” using the standards existing on January 1, 2009, of the motion picture association of America, inc. Any motion picture, videotape, videodisc, cable television service, or other visual medium that contains any explicit sex of the type that would be rated “X” using these standards is considered to be primarily oriented to an interest in sex.

You can probably start listing the question-mark areas – how about this? how about that? – about as well as we can. Passed in present form, this one will probably be shot down in court. But there’s some indication it may be amended before going much further. We’ll be interested to see what improvements they come up with.

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