Bill that could lead to prosecution of librarians advances in Alabama House

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Lawmakers in Alabama passed legislation that could lead to the prosecution of librarians under the state’s obscenity law for providing minors with “harmful” materials.

The bill, approved 72-28 by the Alabama House of Representatives, will now move to the state Senate. It removes existing exemptions for public libraries in the state’s obscenity law and is part of a larger nationwide effort to ban books.

The bill will also expand the definition of sexual conduct prohibited at public K-12 schools or public libraries to include any “sexual or gender oriented conduct” that may expose minors to people who are dressed in “sexually revealing, exaggerated, or provocative clothing or costumers, or are stripping, or engaged in lewd or lascivious dancing, presentations, or activities.”

If signed into law, any librarian who violates the law could face a misdemeanor.

Anyone who believes public schools or libraries are violating the law can provide written notice of the violation to the organization’s leaders and the district attorney in the county.

Opponents of the bill say that it will allow anyone who disagrees with a librarian’s choice of content to threaten criminal prosecution on a whim, The Associated Press reported.

State Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, said during debate that the process “will be manipulated and used to arrest librarians that you don’t like, and not because they did anything criminal,” the AP noted.

State Rep. Neil Rafferty, a Democrat from Birmingham, said he thinks the bill is easily going to be abused and is a violation of the First Amendment. Republican state Rep. David Faulker said “it’s only a misdemeanor” and librarians would only face punishment if they didn’t do anything about the content after knowing about it.

The law would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2024 if passed by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.).

The law follows a nationwide effort to restrict books and other material that depict LGBTQ+ communities. Republican state Rep. Arnold Mooney, the bill’s sponsor, said during the debate, that the bill is an effort to protect children.

“It is not a Democrat bill. It’s not a Republican bill. It’s a people bill to try to protect children,” Mooney said, per the AP.  

The Associated Press contributed.

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