The Republican-led West Virginia House of Delegates on Friday passed a bill that would open librarians to criminal penalties for showing obscene materials to minors.

After nearly an hour of debate, delegates voted 85 to 12 mostly along party lines to pass House Bill 4654, which removes exemptions to criminal liability for schools, museums and public libraries relating to distribution and display of obscene matters to minors.

House members voted down an amendment from Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, that would have extended the exemptions to teachers. He said the amendment was meant to protect teachers, most likely health teachers, from facing prosecution for teaching their curriculum.

Speaking against the bill, House Minority Leader Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said it would cost counties and libraries when matters about obscenity go to court.

“I also trust our parents,” he said. “I trust our parents to make sure that they know what their kids are doing. Put the authority into their hands when it comes to our schools. Because this is still vague, I’m scared that – what happens when we teach history? The Holocaust. We’ve all seen those graphic pictures concerning the Holocaust. What about slavery? These are issues that we have not answered.”

Republican supporters of the bill disagreed with opponents’ arguments that it would be a “defacto book ban,” leading librarians to take out or not stock material that some might find objectionable rather than risk the possibility of criminal charges.

“This bill does not ban books or censor free speech,” Del. Elliott Pritt, R-Fayette, said. “These books can still be bought by people privately if they want, if they’re adults. We are not saying that they have to be taken off the market. What this bill does do is stop obscene and pornographic or sexually explicit materials from being available to children in publicly, taxpayer funded spaces.”

During a public hearing on the bill in late January, supporters read outloud graphic sexual material they said was found in school libraries. Those opposing the legislation, including several librarians, said the bill would open libraries to potential costly prosecution.

In a speech before the House Judiciary committee Monday, lead sponsor Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, called libraries “the sanctuary for pedophilia” where people needed to be held accountable for exposing children to obscene content.

Librarians could face a $25,000 fine or five years in prison under the state’s obscenity laws regarding minors.

The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

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