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Arizona Senate committee advances bill targeting 'sexually explicit' materials in schools

An Arizona Senate committee approved a bill that would prohibit a public school from referring "sexually explicit" material to children without the express consent of their parents, despite objections that the legislation could prevent classical texts and other enhancing forms of literature from being taught. 

House Bill 2495 would prohibit a public school from referring a student to or using any sexually explicit material in any manner. Exceptions written into the bill provide avenues for some books that are considered classical literature to be taught without disruptions. Other modern works would have to be approved through parental permission slips.

According to the bill's sponsor, state Representative Jake Hoffman, a Republican from Queen Creek, the bill is designed to address growing concerns in conservative circles that children are being exposed to elicit material in school.

Arizona's obscenity code was signed into law in the 1960s. It was amended in 2001, but the bill's sponsor, who thinks it is time for an update, gave his testimony for his concern.

"From cartoons featuring male and female organs to books openly featuring explicit sexual acts depicted by illustrated teenagers, to hundreds of reference materials that are provided to Arizona children directing them to resources like and I'm quoting, 'Dry Humping Saves Lives,' it's okay to have sex with a lot of people, how to view porn, and other equally as concerning topics," said Hoffman to the committee. "Now these are shown in some cases to students as young as 9 years old. That's fourth grade."

Hoffman did not offer the committee evidence that the "Dry Humping" booklet has ever been distributed in Arizona schools. That material, which is a zine-style sex education booklet, appears on the conservative Christian group Family Watch International's "Stop Comprehensive Sexuality Education." The Arizona-based group claims the booklet has been distributed in Oregon and "likely in many other states."

With the permission of the Department of Public Safety, Representative Hoffman showed illustrated pictures depicting teenagers engaged in sexual intercourse and masturbation to the committee as evidence of the types of materials he seeks to be banned from schools.

State Senator Christine Marsh, a Democrat from Paradise Valley, said the bill is too broadly tailored, and fears it would table books like "The Color Purple," "Grapes of Wrath," and "To Kill a Mockingbird" because teachers would be too fearful of speaking, teaching or recommending some classics.

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"Hunting down all of those permission slips and recording them and all of that becomes such a burden for teachers are already overwhelmed that they're going to just not teach that book and move to something different and maybe that's the intent," Marsh said.

Proponents of the bill were still unmoved by pleas from Democrats, citing alleged incidences of books portraying pedophilia being found in Maricopa County schools.

One proponent of the bill referenced the controversial book "Beyond Magenta."

"This book was written about transgender teens featuring descriptions of children performing sex acts with adults," said Lisa Fink, the Protect Arizona Children Coalition president. "It references adults having sex with children, 6, 7 and 8 years of age. Sex with adults was referred to, not as abuse, but it's just a curiosity."

Fink claimed a parent in the Kyrene School District found the book, but details were murky as to how it was distributed, and the district did not address who purchased it or provided it.

State Senator Theresa Hatathlie, a Democrat from Coal Mine Canyon, pointed out there are already laws protecting children from pornography and said this new law would burden the public.

"We have rules in place to take care of bad teachers who provide pornography to students," said Hatathlie explaining her vote. "I don't think it is happening at all schools. And for those isolated incidents. It does need to be addressed and these offenders need to be held accountable."

Despite objections, the House-originated bill passed the Senate Education Committee 5–3 and will be sent to the Senate floor for a vote before going to the governor for consideration.

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