Witt: An unreasonable piece of legislation
Sometimes it seems there aren’t enough adverbs in the English language to adequately describe “stupid.”
About one of the most stupid proposals ever to come before a legislative body was proposed recently in Missouri, as House Bill 2044 by Missouri Rep. Ben Baker.
The bill proposes to repeal section 181.060 of the Missouri Statutes.
The first part of the bill reads almost exactly like the act it proposes to replace. 181.060 is an act designating the manner in which state funds are allocated to public libraries in the state.
But rather quickly, the bill adds new clauses which clearly demonstrate the true intent of the replacement: to make public librarians into censors.
His bill, which references a new section 182.821, states: “This section shall be known and may be cited as the ‘Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act.’”
And while the bill proposes to set up new censorship boards at public libraries composed of “five adult residents,” it does not stipulate they must be parents, so the title of the bill is — as is often the case of proposed legislation — vague to the point of misrepresentation.
Now, here’s a very unique part of the bill. Subsection three of 182.821.2 states: “‘Public library,’” any library that receives state aid under section 181.060 AND THAT PROVIDES PUBLIC ACCESS TO AGE-INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL MATERIAL.”
Note that, apparently, under state definition, a library is not really a library unless it provides access to the defined material.
Who writes this stuff?
The bill, which is only four pages long — a modest bill compared to many that come to legislatures — and the first two pages are simply a re-iteration of the bill it proposes to replace, with only the last two pages devoted to the additions.
However, in just two pages, reference to “sexual material” occurs eight times, with the term “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement” occurring once.
By all appearances Baker is obsessed with sex.
Consider some of the books which have been censored or banned on sexual grounds: “Diary of Anne Frank,” “Brave New World,” “My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy.”
At one time in this country a book on animal husbandry was even banned because it discussed how farm animals reproduce.
It’s pretty obvious the definition of sexual content is subject to wide interpretation.
Nowhere in the bill is the age of inappropriateness defined. It simply would never do to have a five-year-old reading “Lolita” or “The Catcher in the Rye.”
But he saves the real clincher for last (which is what one is expected to do to produce a really exciting story).
Subsection five of 182.821.3 states: “Any public library personnel who willfully neglects or refuses to perform any duty imposed on a public library under this section, or who willfully violates any provision of this section,” — namely, seeing to it that minors do not have access to “age-inappropriate sexual material” — “is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year.”
With the overcrowding of our penal institutions (no doubt in Missouri as well) it seems pretty extreme to put a librarian in jail for a year for letting some five-year-old escape the library with a copy of “Fanny Hill” tucked in his knickers.
I hope our Kentucky legislators don’t latch onto this as a reasonable piece of legislation.
Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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