Ohio introduces bill to make ‘pandering obscenity’ a felony for teachers and librarians.

A new bill proposed in the Ohio House by Republican lawmakers suggests that teachers and librarians could face felony charges for sharing content deemed “obscene.”

However, the bill fails to define what content qualifies as obscene, despite imposing serious penalties on educators and “public school librarians” who handle such material.

Ohio State Representative Adam Mathews, R-Lebanon, introduced House Bill 556, aiming to establish criminal liability for specific teachers and librarians for the alleged offense of pandering obscenity.

The bill categorizes a librarian as “a librarian employed by a school district, public or chartered nonpublic school, or a librarian in a school district public library.”

Teachers and school librarians would be prohibited from producing, distributing, or promoting “obscene material” under the proposed legislation. The bill also restricts them from organizing or overseeing “an obscene performance.”

However, the bill lacks clarity regarding the definition of “obscenity,” as it only mentions the term a few times, raising concerns among educators and library groups.

House Bill 556 seeks to modify current statutes in the Ohio Revised Code and adopts language from those statutes related to pandering obscenity, without specifying what constitutes obscenity.

Stakeholders, like the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, express reservations about the bill’s ambiguity, citing potential misuse by individuals targeting public schools and libraries.

The Ohio Library Council shares these reservations and intends to engage with the bill’s sponsor to address concerns surrounding the legislation.

The bill includes an “affirmative defense,” allowing individuals accused of pandering obscenity to justify the material’s use for legitimate purposes, excluding “educational” as a valid defense in the proposal.

Furthermore, to establish an affirmative defense, the material must be associated with specific professionals or individuals, emphasizing the material’s intended purpose for legitimate fields.

Ohio Capital Journal operates independently and is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network. Contact Editor David Dewitt for inquiries or follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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