State of Maine: ‘Obscene material’ bill floated



If the human wreckage is any indication, it has been a tough week in Hancock County. A snowstorm brought 4 inches of snow topped with 3 inches of ice, rendering the streets and sidewalks unnavigable. Then came the rain, pouring down in biblical proportions and turning it all to slush.

Lawns became lakes, streets became rivers, and basements — well, you know what happened to basements. When it was all over, the ground was almost bare again, awaiting the next onslaught.

In Augusta it is raining bills, 470 by the start of this week. The session is too new to be producing visible signs of combat. That will come. For now, it’s peace and harmony. The same holds true at the federal level as our delegation acts in concert for the good of the order.

New Congressman Jared Golden is refreshingly accessible. He has a helpful website that is easy to navigate. There is a lot of geography between his two offices in Lewiston and Caribou, but he has reportedly signed a lease for a Bangor office to open in February.

Golden has received two solid committee assignments, to the House Armed Services Committee and the House Small Business Committee. The first is important for Bath Iron Works, one of Maine largest employers, the second because the Maine economy is largely dependent on small businesses.

There has been just one wince-worthy moment in an email survey from Golden that went like this: “Jared wants your input: Should leaders from every side come together to reopen the government in a bipartisan, responsible way?” Umm, yes?

Closer to home, Ellsworth and Trenton’s state representative Nicole Grohoski stationed herself at Flexit Cafe in Ellsworth on a Saturday morning to talk with her constituents. Gathered around a table, coffee mugs in hand, more than a dozen community members asked questions and offered opinions.

Among the encouraging signs from Grohoski are her enthusiasm for her job, her understanding of the importance of establishing good relationships in Augusta and her candor about what she does not yet know. She plans to hold these public meetings monthly. A shout-out to Flexit for offering a community meeting place and networking venue.

To last week’s rant about concept drafts, meaning bills with titles but no language to indicate what they would actually do, add LD 453, “An Act to Ensure the Integrity and Accountability of Persons Who Are Elected to Public Office.” Just how would you do that via law? It remains to be seen. Right now the title is all we have.

In the “wary eye” category is LD 94, “An Act to Prohibit the Dissemination of Obscene Material by Public Schools.” Is anyone is in favor of the dissemination of obscene material to our kids? Probably not, but the challenge is, who decides?

State law (17 MRSA Section 2911) already defines “obscene matter” in terms of the “average individual,” “contemporary community standards,” “suitable material for minors,” what’s “patently offensive” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” There is plenty of room for argument in each of those standards.

There are exemptions for “any library, art gallery, museum, public school, [or] private school.” This bill would remove the public school exemption. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Amy Arata, was motivated by the content of a book her teenage son was reading for school.

The problem with this sort of ban? It’s squishy. Who is an average individual? What are contemporary standards? Literary, artistic, political or scientific value? Who’s the judge of that? For motion pictures there is an exemption if “the minor was accompanied by his spouse, parent or legal guardian.” His spouse? A minor (defined as under 18) attending an “obscene” movie with his or her “spouse?” Now, that’s obscene.

There is sure to be plenty of hand-wringing over this bill. Many treasured American classics have been banned or challenged in their day, including “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Gone with the Wind” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Even Shel Silverstein’s “A Light in the Attic,” beloved of children (and their parents) everywhere, teaching children that poetry can be both funny and relevant to their lives, has had its day on the list, though it is hard to figure out why.

With the violence, lust and profanity to which kids are exposed on a daily basis, they are hardly likely to shocked by anything assigned in school. Most schools have a way for parents to request a different assignment for those who are worried. But maybe a book that alarms you could be the starting point for a great conversation with your son or daughter. And maybe, if you read it in order to have that conversation, you will discover that there is much more to it than the parts you find objectionable.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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