Tightening reins on teenage social media
U.S. BRIEFS | Utah Legislature imposes social media restrictions on youth, including parental consent
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The Legislature passed two bills March 13 that require social media companies to verify the age of any Utah resident younger than 18 who opens an account, and also to obtain consent from the teen’s parent or guardian. The bills prohibit social media companies from showing minors’ accounts in search results or targeting ads to youth. Companies also must limit youth from accessing their accounts at night and may not use any design or feature that causes addiction in a minor. The state’s consumer protection division will investigate complaints and levy fines or pursue civil penalties against violators. Electronic freedom advocates say requiring parental access is a threat to privacy and free speech. Gov. Spencer Cox said he planned to sign both bills, which would take effect in March 2024. Cox downplayed First Amendment concerns by noting the coexistence of constitutional guarantees and laws that prevent children from buying guns. “This is something that’s killing our kids,” he said. —Todd Vician
Lawmakers in the city of Union on March 13 voted to change their hiring policies in order to address a shortage of seasonal employees. This summer, 14-year-olds can apply for jobs as lifeguards, concession stand workers, and day camp counselors, ending a policy that previously required city employees to be at least 15. Fourteen is the minimum age for employment for nonagricultural jobs under federal child labor laws. Federal rules also restrict the hours youth under the age of 16 can work and prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from hazardous employment. Ohio senators recently approved a bill that would enable 14- and 15-year-olds to work longer on school nights: Currently, 13 states allow teens under 16 to work until 9 p.m. year-round. —Kim Henderson
Gov. Andy Beshear on March 16 signed a bill, effective July 1, to ban so-called “gray” gaming machines installed in bars, restaurants, and truck stops throughout the state. Players pull a lever or press a button to get at least two matching icons before manually changing one to get three in a row. The games’ manufacturer says that feature makes the machines games of skill, meaning they aren’t covered by the state’s gambling laws that outlaw games of chance such as traditional slot machines. Bill sponsor Rep. Killian Timoney calls the machines “gray machines” because they don’t fit neatly into current regulations. Opponents of the bill said the games benefit small businesses that don’t have to pay taxes on the money generated by the machines. —Lauren Canterberry
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced March 13 that investigators have charged 10 more people in the nation’s largest pandemic-aid fraud case. Now a total of 60 Minnesotans stand accused of claiming over $250 million in federal reimbursements for a fraudulent nonprofit, Feeding Our Future. The defendants, including smaller nonprofit operators and food distributors, claimed to have served millions of meals to hungry children while schools were closed—but federal investigators found very few meals were ever served. Luger said the accused ran “a brazen scheme of staggering proportions.” Some of them didn’t even have a physical kitchen or location for food distribution and turned in lists of fake aid recipients. The defendants allegedly pocketed the reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One even bought 37 acres of land and an airplane. Trials began last year. So far, six people have pleaded guilty, and the government has seized $66.6 million in assets from those implicated in the fraud. —Elizabeth Russell
A top-ranked public high school has collected over $1 million from groups that represent Chinese interests. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, part of Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, has received donations since 2014 from groups including Tsinghua University High School, which has ties to the Chinese military. Parents Defending Education, a grassroots nonprofit, on March 7 published information about the donations, used for a renovation project. In response, Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera wrote to the school district’s superintendent, insisting that such donations cease. “I have asked the Virginia Department of Education to investigate the prevalence of such relationships between [Chinese Communist Party]-linked partners and local school divisions across the Commonwealth,” she added. —Emma Freire
A Dothan megachurch voted in early March to break away from the United Methodist Church over concerns about a theological drift from Biblical sexuality. The 2,600-member Covenant United Methodist Church is only the latest to seek disaffiliation from the global denomination. More than 6 percent of UMC churches in the United States, or 1,960 congregations, have received permission to disaffiliate since 2019, according to denominational figures. Under a current UMC disaffiliation plan, churches have until the end of this year to exit the denomination without losing their properties. Covenant UMC Senior Pastor Kyle Gatlin told the Christian Post that the church’s reason for leaving included bishops failing to enforce the denomination’s rules prohibiting ordination of homosexual clergy or blessing of same-sex marriages. Covenant UMC leaders recommended the church instead join the newly formed, theologically conservative Global Methodist Church. —Mary Jackson