ND lawmakers considering book ban

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 5:03 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - A controversial bill regarding what’s available at libraries was introduced at the Legislature on Tuesday.

House Bill 1205 would ban certain books from public libraries in North Dakota. The books in question? Those that contain “sexually explicit material.”

When you’re interested in something, a good way to learn about it is by reading books.

“It’s really personal. You have your own decision to make about the books you read,” said Emily Ehrens from Bismarck.

But some people in North Dakota are concerned about some of the books kids have access to.

“Why does the North Dakota Public Library, funded with taxpayer dollars, need to purchase and promote obscene and pornographic material? What is the social redeeming value in doing that? How does that make our state better?” said Tom Tracy of Jamestown.

As for the material in question, one that’s top-of-mind is a book called “Let’s Talk About It.”

“This book is full of sexually explicit graphics, including depictions of vaginas and penises, discussing gender identities, sex, and masturbation, all the while using colorful and youthful imagery,” said Autumn Richard of Lefor.

That’s why lawmakers have introduced legislation that, if passed, wouldn’t allow public libraries to “maintain in its inventory or promote books that make as their primary subject the study of sexually explicit material.” But the pushback on this bill is wide-ranging. For starters, there’s the issue of censorship.

“Each of us gets to choose what books we read and what information we access. But we don’t get to choose that for other people. Doing so is un-American and unconstitutional,” said Cody Schuler with the ACLU of North Dakota.

Then there’s the issue of enforceability.

“With an average of 187,000 visitors in our building every year, how would we ever monitor who was looking at these books? The answer is we can’t, and we shouldn’t,” said Christine Kujawa, library director at Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.

Those opposed also asked lawmakers to consider children who might not otherwise have the resources.

“If I was a 13 or 15 or 17-year-old who had not gotten the education through the school system or through an interested and engaged family, that book serves a crucial, crucial function,” said Allan Blume, vice president of Valley City Barnes County Public Library Board of Directors.

Despite these objections, the lawmakers behind House Bill 1205 are steadfast.

“For those who would say this is a political issue. It’s not, it’s pure common sense,” said Representative Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson.

But the dozens of librarians that submitted testimony in opposition to the bill would say otherwise.

“It will be costly to the state in that whoever sues will have their attorney fees paid by the state and according to my legal sources, that’s $500 per hour or more. Why waste the Attorney General’s time and money defending an indefensible law? It’s an insult to librarians and it’s an insult to our citizens,” said Kujawa.

This is one of two bills that address sexuality in books available to children. The other, SB 2123, would outlaw selling materials with written descriptions of sex in places minors frequent.

Notably, 63 of the 73 pieces of testimony submitted for this bill were in opposition.

No action was taken on the library bill on Tuesday.