Lawmakers amend proposed bill to keep protections for libraries and museums in “obscene” materials rule

The proposed bill that would change state law related to the availability of obscene materials to minors was updated to maintain the exceptions for public libraries and museums.

House Bill 234, as amended, would remove the exception for public school staff to the public display or dissemination of obscene materials to minors.

The bill passed out of the House judiciary committee 12-7 last week.

Susie McIntyre, director of the Great Falls Public Library who testified against the bill in January, said that there are other similar bills in the hopper that don’t yet have text.

Lawmakers consider change to “obscene” materials rule for libraries, museums, public schools

“I wish that it would have just been killed, because it’s a harmful bill. People need access to resources and information,” she said. “I don’t understand how legislators think educators can do justice to their students when it’s unclear what’s criminal and what’s not.”

Proponents of the bill argued that students have access to what they consider obscene materials in schools and libraries, but opponents argue that the definition of obscene in state law is vague and subjective.

If the bill were to pass, public school staff and board members would be subject to six months in jail and/or a fee of at least $500 but not more than $1,000.

The problem is that the definition of obscenity in state law is vague and based on community standards, according to opponents.

Under state law a thing is obscene if, “it is a representation or description of perverted ultimate sexual acts, actual or simulated; it is a patently offensive representation or description of normal ultimate sexual acts, actual or simulated; or it is a patently offensive representation or description of masturbation, excretory functions, or lewd exhibition of the genitals; and taken as a whole the material: applying contemporary community standards, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; portrays conduct” as described above “in a patently offensive way; and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Tom Moore, superintendent of Great Falls Public Schools, told The Electric last week, “the School Administrators of Montana and the Montana School Boards Association are watching this bill. They are providing some pros and cons to their membership about the latest version of the bill and the potential implications to schools.”

Lance Melton of the Montana School Boards Association told The Electric last week that the section of law HB 234 would amend pertains to commercial establishments so it would “not apply on its face to public schools. Public schools are not commercial establishments. I am not sure why there was ever an exception in the law to the prohibition on distributing obscenity to minors but the removal of that exception will not change anything in public schools as our schools don’t distribute obscenity as it is defined in law in any manner whatsoever.”