House Criminal Justice Committee Pushes Through Bill To Remove Obscene Materials From School Libraries

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The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

House Bill 1944 is referred for passage by the House Criminal Justice committee and is headed to the Education Administration for review.

HB1944, sponsored by Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka-District 64) aims to prohibit educational institutions from making materials that are considered “obscene” or “harmful to minors” available to students in schools.

Obscene materials are defined as those that include descriptions or representations of nudity, sexual activities, excessive violence, sadomasochistic abuse, and sexual excitement.

Materials are considered “harmful to minors” under the code if they “would be found by the average person applying contemporary community standards to appeal predominantly to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interests of minors; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and taken as whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific values for minors. 

The Criminal Justice subcommittee heard four hours of testimony in favor and against the bill, but additional testimony was heard during the committee meeting. Another hour and a half of testimony, along with a question-and-answer session, took place Wednesday before the entire committee.

The group first heard from Jennifer Hamblin, a former school board member from Cheatham County. Hamblin was given three minutes to testify in favor of the bill. She noted that advocates of the bill had found books that were considered to be obscene in 93 of the 95 counties in the state.

Hamblin says that the new legislation will allow school board members and elected officials to “do a deeper dive to make sure we aren’t grooming our kids.”

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She was followed by Sharon Edwards, president of the Tennessee Library Association. Edwards noted that Tennessee already has a “harmful to minors” law that does not provide an exception for school systems, making the new bill unnecessarily redundant. She also stated that none of the books on the list compiled by those pushing for the bill can be labeled as legally obscene because they do not meet the three criteria. 

Edwards made a plea to legislators, saying, “You can vote against this bill, because it is unconstitutional, and still be anti-obscenity in libraries.”

The bill passed through the committee with a vote of 13 to 3. All of the Republican members of the committee voted in favor of the bill; the three noes came from Democratic members.

Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris-District 75) said, “Somehow we’ve got to get this trash, this nastiness, out of our school systems. If we don’t, we’re going to lose our children.”

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Representative G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis-District 93) has spoken out several times in opposition of the bill. He says that removing books is not the solution to the problem. He argues that instead, there should be more education that challenges students and adults to apply critical thinking to the content found in the books.

“Do you as a parent, as a responsible adult, want to give guidance as to what’s real, what’s bad, what’s real, what’s fantasies,” Hardaway argued.

Cepicky said that the bill was written in a way that would avoid the arbitrary removal of books. Instead, it would help to establish a review process for determining whether the book should be removed or should remain. Local school boards would have thirty days to make a decision as to whether materials are obscene or not.

“We can’t think of anybody better who would represent the community standards than the school board of that local LEA who were elected by the people to represent their views,” Cepicky stated.

The committee recommended that the bill be passed with amendments. No amendment had been filed or released at the time of writing.

HB1944 has not yet appeared on the calendar for the House Education Administration Committee but companion Senate Bill 1944 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 16th.

If you support this legislation, contact the Republican members of the Senate Committee (who hold the supermajority vote) prior to their meeting on the 16th. Contact information below.

Senate Education Committee – Republican Members

Jon Lundberg (Acting Chair) – sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-5761

Mike Bell – sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-1946

Rusty Crowe – sen.rusty.crowe@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-2468

Ferrell Haile – sen.ferrell.haile@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-1999

Joey Hensley – sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-3100

Brian Kelsey – sen.brian.kelsey@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-3036

Bill Powers – sen.bill.powers@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-2374

Dawn White – sen.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-6853

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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