After holding a public hearing, the Alabama Senate Children and Youth Help Committee advanced a bill on Thursday to remove the obscenity exception for public schools and libraries.

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.

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 passed the House last week with some Democratic pushback.

See: House passes amended bill removing school, public library obscenity exceptions; Public drag show prohibition not included

The public hearing featured an equal number of people supporting and opposing the legislation.

Sara Sanchez, a volunteer with Clean Up Alabama, a group opposed to sexually explicit books in children's libraries, was first to the podium, calling the bill a "common sense step to bring libraries into alignment with regulations that govern the distribution of obscene material on any other premises in Alabama."

"Our children are worth protecting and our tax dollars should not be spent on these materials and this legislation brings necessary accountability to our public and school libraries that is currently lacking," Sanchez said.

Several Alabama library directors expressed concern at the bill's criminal provisions, which provide a series of misdemeanor charges if a library director or school superintendent refuses to remove material determined as obscene.

Others lamented the lack of an appeal process for those accused of promulgating obscene material.

"I don't relish the idea of being arrested. I would strongly urge you to consider an amendment to HB385 to fine the library itself instead of arresting the library director," said Lindsy Gardner, the director of the Oneal Library in Mountain Brook.

Gardner also requested an amendment requiring only residents of a specific area to be allowed to file a complaint.

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.

Tony Moore, a former Prattville City Councilman and member of Clean up Alabama, attended the meeting with his grandson, displaying his motivation for engaging in the controversy.

"I found out there was books in out library, which I used to hang out in as a kid waiting on my parents to pick me up, this little four-year-old here could find out how he could become a girl," Moore said. "That's a shame. And I think we owe it to our kids to pass this bill and support it with all that we can."

He continued, "I would ask you to do everything within your power, your God-given power, to support these little ones because they're all we got."

The Committee approved the bill unanimously. However, members said they were working on an amendment to introduce on the Senate floor that would address the concerns of some speakers and state district attorneys while giving few details.

"There's some changes that have to be made before we're going to do anything with the bill on the floor, including the amendment that's being worked on now that we thought we were going to have ready," said Committee Chair State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia)

State Sen. Keith Kelley (R-Anniston) thanked both sides for appearing at the public hearing, especially recognizing Moore's grandchild.

"I especially like that we have the grandchild here," Kelly said. "Because that puts things in its proper perspective of really what we're here for, what the libraries are here to try to help do. I understand that this puts the librarians in a difficult spot, but we have an obligation to these children and it sounds like a lot of these issues are going to be probably worked out in these amendments."

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