MONTGOMERY — On Wednesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation removing the obscenity exception for public schools and libraries while removing previous restrictions in the bill, banning drag shows where minors are present.

House Bill 385 (HB 385) by State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) addresses the statewide controversy surrounding sexually explicit or obscene children's books in Alabama libraries.

However, it would also add a definition to the state's "sexual conduct" provision, seemingly targeted at public drag shows.  

Initially, the bill read, "Any sexual or gender-oriented material that knowingly exposes minors to persons who are dressed in sexually revealing, exaggerated, or provocative clothing or costumes, or are stripping, or engaged in lewd or lascivious dancing, presentations, or activities in K-12 public schools, public libraries, and other public places where minors are expected and are known to be present without parental consent."

The line was seemingly targeted at public drag shows. However, the bill was amended on the House floor to remove the prohibition on "public places," limiting it to apply only to schools and libraries.  

It also answers a call from lawmakers and political leaders for oversight and restrictions on inappropriate books in libraries targeting minors.

Current law states, "It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or offer or agree to distribute any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary (monetary) value. Material not otherwise obscene may be obscene under this section if the distribution of the material, the offer to do so, or the possession with the intent to do so is a commercial exploitation of erotica solely for the sake of prurient appeal."

The state's obscenity laws do not apply to public libraries, public school libraries, college libraries, university libraries or their employees. HB 385 would provide that criminal obscenity laws do not apply to college or university libraries or their employees or agents but do apply to public libraries and public school libraries.  

The legislation has 30 co-sponsors, including House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) and House Speaker Nathanial Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

Mooney presented the bill before the House, facing vigorous backlash from House Democrats. Republicans, in contrast, voiced near-unanimous support for the bill.

State Rep. David Faulkner (R-Birmingham) offered a substitute bill that would systematize the process for filing complaints against libraries and public schools and require notification of local District Attorneys.

"What we did here, for K-12 schools and public libraries, is required that a written notice be given, that it be given to the director of the library or the head librarian, or in the case of a school, a principal or superintendent, and that a copy of that notice be given to the district attorney to say we believe material exists in this library or in this school that is not in compliance with this existing law," he explained.

Faulkner stated that if the material is found to violate the law and is not removed within seven days, the district attorney would have the discretion to bring charges of a Class C misdemeanor for the first violation. A second violation is a Class B misdemeanor, and third and subsequent violations are Class A misdemeanors. This changes the existing code for distributing obscene material, which carries a Class C felony charge with a second or subsequent violation.

Democrats gave a relatively uniform condemnation of the bill, complaining of government overreach and bemoaning the possible persecution of teachers and librarians.

State Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) said Faulkner's amendment "watered down" the legislation but said it was putting "lipstick on this pig."

"Where does government stop?" Drummond asked. "I mean, government can't legislate morality."

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) responded to Drummond's claim, defending the bill's intent as a response to the shifting cultural environment.

"I do not believe that you're trying to put lipstick on a pig," Garrett said.

"Children that are exposed to pornographic material before they are developmentally ready, it does produce certain things in their minds that they are not ready to develop," said State Rep. Mark Gidley (R-Hokes Bluff). "And that's what this is about. This is about people that want to put forth an agenda to get in the minds of our kids."

State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), the only openly gay lawmaker in Alabama, objected to the bill, attempting to poke holes in the bill's language, asking if someone wearing a sundress would fall under the "subjective" definition of "provocative" in the bill.

"The courts have interpreted what is obscene, what is harmful to minors," Faulkner responded. "Yes, all of this is subject to interpretation; the courts have done the best they can with it. But [Mooney's] definition is limited to what's in our public K-12 public schools and a public library."

State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) joined other Democratic lawmakers in pointing out legal issues with prosecuting a case where you would have to prove that a librarian or school superintendent received the notice before the seven-day allowed period. He also pointed out that the bill has no provision for an authority to determine if any material is actually obscene.

"There is no process by which the book is actually determined to be obscene before it has to be removed," England said. "There is no notice process. There is no requirement in the notice. There isn't any time frame for the notice to be served. Yet, one person can meet up with you, y'all can get together and say, 'guess what, I gave notice that this book was obscene, I gave it to the district attorney and the magistrate then goes and arrests a librarian. Boy, I'll tell you what, some things do not need to be criminal offenses to require enforcement. It is a bad idea because this process will be manipulated and used to arrest a librarian that you don't like."

After only an hour-and-a-half of debate, the legislation passed with a vote of 72-29. The bill now goes to the Senate for deliberation.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.