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Senate panel increases proposed criminal penalties for ‘obscene’ textbooks

A state Senate committee has strengthened proposed criminal penalties for educators in legislation targeting “obscene” material and “hard pornography” in classrooms and school libraries.

Senate Docket 2198 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The move means the bill will meet this week’s deadline for policy bills.

The bill would create a criminal penalty for teachers or school officials who provide “obscene material” or “hard pornography” in school libraries or require such material to be used in class.

“This bill is about giving parents the power to say what’s wrong and what they find inappropriate that’s being taught in the classroom,” said committee chairman Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale.

Zaun praised Iowa’s educators, saying 99.5% are “great teachers.” He said the bill “would not put teachers in jail”.

“But we have teachers who have taken it upon themselves, without parental consent, to teach what I believe to be disgusting pornographic material,” he said.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, has defended books that have been challenged as obscene, which he says could give some kids a sense of themselves or their sexuality that they wouldn’t get at the House. “And schools fill those slots because parents don’t or they set a bad example,” he said.

Bisignano also disagreed with Zaun that the bill would not put teachers in jail. “…There is a prison sentence. It’s not a slap on the wrist, it’s two years,” Bisignano said.

The original bill would have subject violators to felony charges punishable by a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,560. But the committee voted on Wednesday to amend the bill, making a first offense an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,250.

Zaun said the increased penalty was in line with a 2019 bill that would impose similar penalties on parents who give pornography to their children.

The bill, originally proposed by Senate President Jake Chapman, can now be debated in the Senate. Lawmakers are also still considering legislation originally proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds that would increase reporting requirements for school curriculum and library content, but not impose criminal penalties.

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