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CASPER —In the wake of school board races mired in controversy over books some call “pornographic,” a freshman lawmaker is pushing a bill to expand the definition of child pornography and reverse obscenity exemptions meant to allow the teaching of sexual health topics.

The sponsor of House Bill 87, Casper Republican Rep.-elect Jeanette Ward, a hard-line social conservative, has been heavily involved in debates about what materials should and shouldn’t be available in school libraries.

The bill, which stems from concerns about explicit materials in school libraries, would amend the definition of “child pornography” to include any form of depiction of “explicit sexual conduct” where the visual depiction or the process of producing it involves, shows or has been modified to show a child engaging in an explicit sexual act.

It specifies cartoons and drawings as included in the definition.

It would also repeal a section of Wyoming Statute 6-4-302 that provides exemptions to people who “produce, reproduce, possess or disseminate obscene material” for the purpose of “bona fide school, college, university, museum or public library activities or in the course of employment of such an organization.”

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, mentioned her intention to promote such a bill at an October event hosted by former interim state superintendent of public instruction Brian Schroeder.

Ward said in an email to the Star-Tribune that she asked the Legislative Service Office to draft the bill of hers and has not talked one-on-one with Rodriguez-Williams about the legislation.

“I drafted the bill of my own initiative based on concerns expressed to me by my constituents and my own experiences with the Natrona County School Board,” she said.

The bill has garnered 13 cosponsors, nine of whom are incoming freshmen lawmakers. The new lawmakers are Republican Reps.- elect Bill Allemand, Abby Angelos, Ben Hornok, Tony Locke, Ken Pendergraft, Sarah Penn, Allen Slagle and Tomi Strock, and Republican Sen.-elect Bob Ide.

Some of the veteran lawmakers who cosponsored the bill — Republican Sens. Lynn Hutchings and Cheri Steinmetz — also attended former state superintendent Schroeder’s October conference, which centered on concerns about the “sexualization” of minors in schools.

The bill, if it makes it through the Legislature as it's drafted now, would take effect July 1.

Ward has been a forceful voice on the topic of explicit materials in school libraries, having appeared repeatedly at Natrona County school board meetings to speak against keeping two books that some had deemed “pornographic” out of the Kelly Walsh High School library.

After a lengthy review process that involved the input of an outside committee, the school board ultimately voted in November to keep the two books in question — “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel about the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a resource guide for transgender and gender expansive individuals — in the Kelly Walsh High School library.

Advocates for banning the books called them “pornographic.”

Those who wanted to keep the books pointed out that both concern LGBTQ individuals and said they are important representations and resources for students who are LGBTQ. They voiced suspicion that the debate wasn’t really about the books, but rather about opposition to LGBTQ identities.

Over the course of debate on these books, some people who wanted to oust them from Kelly Walsh High School emphasized repeatedly that they were not asking for a “ban” of the books, since they would still be available on the marketplace and in public libraries.

The bill, however, would repeal obscenity exemptions not only for school employees, but also for employees of public libraries and other educational institutions.

The Star-Tribune inquired with Ward as to whether repealing those exemptions would mean that public libraries, the resource that some have previously mentioned as an alternative to school libraries, could no longer provide materials that fall under obscenity definitions.

Could the bill then be understood as a “ban” on these materials in public libraries?

“Not requiring tax payers to pay for obscenity is reasonable and just,” she responded over email. “These books will continue to be available in the marketplace, but not paid for by taxpayer dollars. Reasonable people everywhere recognize these books as obscene and reasonable people do not want their money used to subsidize obscenity.”

She clarified in a follow-up email that the bill would indeed prohibit not just schools, but colleges, universities, museums and public libraries from keeping or providing materials that fall under the definition of obscenity.

Before the November general election, Ward endorsed three school board candidates, all of them members of the local Moms for Liberty group who ran partly on a platform of ousting explicit materials from school libraries. Two of the candidates that Ward endorsed — Mary Schmidt and Jenifer Hopkins — won seats on the Natrona County school board.

This story was published on Jan. 6, 2023.

(1) comment

Ka12

Welcome to Iran, everyone. The morality police are on the move. I hope they are going to include the Bible in their discussions of what books contain inappropriate materials for children and teens.

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