Online Safety Bill Snags in Senate
A Senate bill that would appropriate $50 million for a competitive grant program funding educational online safety initiatives has now hit a parliamentary snag. Online safety organizations are now pushing to get things moving again.
As I described in a blog post last December, legislation is winding its way through Congress to appropriate funds for online safety curricula. The House version of the bill, H.R. 4134, would earmark $25 million for the online safety initiative I-SAFE and establish a competitive grant competition for other online safety groups totally an additional $25 million. The Senate version of the bill, S. 2344, would appropriate $50 million solely for the competitive grant program and not include an I-SAFE earmark.
The House version of the bill was introduced and passed last November in less than a week’s time. The Senate version, in contrast, has been scheduled for debate since mid-December, but is being snagged on what’s known as a secret hold. Unlike the House, the Senate has a procedural rule that allows any one senator to put a block on pending legislation, preventing it from moving forward. In this particular case, some online safety orgs are speculating that the hold was placed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Yet as the name suggests, secret holds don’t exactly come with a press release, so it’s hard to say whether he and/or other senators were actually behind the hold.
In response to the hold, at least one online safety organization has petitioned Coburn and his Senate colleagues to release the hold and allow the bill to run its course. WebWiseKids, which teaches Internet safety via interactive simulations, submitted a letter to Coburn’s office earlier this week. In it, they argued
Internet safety education programs are greatly needed across America to prevent online exploitation of children and teenagers. Regrettably, there is a scarcity of funding available to educate parents and children about Internet safety. S. 2344 would authorize a competitive grant program to all organizations which equip individuals and communities with up-to-date information and tools needed to safely, securely, ethically and effectively use the Internet and a variety of other technologies. The legislation is a small but much needed positive step forward in the collective effort to protect children and families online. The escalation of Internet crime, including the sexual exploitation and abuse of our children, urgently requires high quality, child engaging Internet safety education programs to prevent harm from occurring in the first place.
Other online safety organizations will likely follow WebWiseKids’ move. Yesterday, for example, online safety advocate Nancy Willard put out a public call to action urging educators to contact the senator. Once again, though, only the senators know who or how many of them actually enacted the hold, so we’ll have to wait and see if such calls to action have any impact.
I’m very curious to see how all of this will play out. Given the recent attention that policymakers have placed on the practice of doling out earmarks, and the constant calls for improving online safety practices for kids, it’s somewhat surprising that the senate version of the bill is the one that’s hit a snag. But politics have an unpredictable way of going forward - or backwards, for that matter - so I’ll continue to follow this one closely. -andy