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Bill aims to crack down on 'obscene' material in Maine schools

LD 123 would eliminate the exemption for educators as it relates to 'obscene' material.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Sen. James Libby, R-Cumberland, represents families in the Bonny Eagle School District. He said a constituent approached him with a request to better define obscene language and create legal consequences for educators who use materials that are considered obscene. But there are a number of groups opposing this bill.

"What LD 123 is looking to do is to remove that exemption from school libraries, and that's very concerning," Jennifer Alvino Wood of the Maine Library Association said.

The Maine Library Association is against the new Republican-backed legislation that could hold educators criminally responsible for making obscene content available to minors. 

The state's current criminal code makes it illegal for a person to share obscene content with minors. It's defined as anything that shows or describes offensive or sexual material. But there is an exemption to the law for educators. This bill would strike out the exemption.

"I don't think anyone ever thought we'd be measuring obscene material against the learning results," Libby said.

Libby is sponsoring this bill. He said by outlining obscenity in state statute, it'll make things easier for educators.

"We're going to hold educators to this statute that already exists that's clean and clear and we're going to be able to interpret," Libby said.

This all stems from an effort in the fall when parents in the Bonny Eagle School district pushed to get the book 'Gender Queer' removed from schools.

The school board voted against banning the book. Meanwhile, people like Alvino Wood are concerned that if this bill passes, the debate isn't over.

Libby on the other hand said that's not his intention.

"If you look at that content standard that's in current law, if it has literary value, if it has artistic value, that content would be just fine," Libby said.

Libby added that there are only a few pages in "Gender Queer" that would need to be redacted due to the sexual content and that this would be the burden of the administration and school board, not the educators.

"I want them to feel confident that a teacher or even a librarian would not be punished," Libby added.

The Education Committee will hold a public hearing on this bill, but that hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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