NewsWest VA House Delegates Approves Bill Prosecuting Librarians

West VA House Delegates Approves Bill Prosecuting Librarians

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted 85-12 in favor of a piece of legislation that allows criminal prosecution of librarians.

In a controversial move, on Feb. 16, the West Virginia House of Delegates voted 85-12 in favor of House Bill 4654, a piece of legislation that could open the door to criminal prosecution of public and school librarians, according to News And Sentinel. The bill aims to eliminate criminal liability exemptions for schools, public libraries, and museums related to the distribution and display of potentially obscene material to minors.

HB 4654, which will now advance to the state Senate, proposes lifting criminal liability exemptions for schools presenting local or state-approved curriculum and public libraries and museums displaying obscene material to minors without parental supervision. The State Code defines obscene matter broadly, encompassing sexually explicit content or anything lacking serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Supporters of the bill argue that it doesn’t ban books but provides additional safeguards for children. Del. Jeff Stephens, a supporter and school teacher, emphasized that the legislation is about offering protection to students similar to existing online filters. Del. Elliott Pritt added that the bill doesn’t censor speech but prevents explicit materials from being accessible to children.

“This bill does not ban books or censor speech. These books can still be bought privately by people if they’re adults. We’re not saying they need to be taken off of the market,” said Del. Elliott Pritt, R-Fayette, who is also a teacher. “What this bill does do is stop obscene and pornographic material, sexually explicit materials from being available to children in public taxpayer-funded spaces.”

However, opponents expressed concerns about unintended consequences. House Minority Leader Sean Hornbuckle warned that the bill’s vagueness could result in challenges to classic books and unwarranted criminal charges against librarians. House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty likened the potential outcomes to actions taken in third-world countries.

Del. Brandon Steele, the lead sponsor of the bill prosecuting librarians, argued that the legislation addresses potential bad actors who might bring explicit materials into libraries to desensitize children. While Steele provided no concrete examples of such incidents in state libraries, he insisted that the bill upholds the sanctity of libraries, schools, and museums while prohibiting criminal conduct.

The contentious bill has been the subject of public hearings and House Judiciary Committee meetings. PEN America, a freedom of expression advocacy organization, noted a trend in several states removing criminal liability exemptions for libraries or broadening the definition of obscenity, potentially leading to criminal charges for having certain books on library shelves.

As the legislation moves to the state Senate, the debate over the balance between protecting children and preserving intellectual freedom continues in West Virginia.

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Source: Black Enterprise


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