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INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers have advanced a bill that would allow schools and public libraries to be criminally prosecuted for books and other materials considered to be “harmful” to children, including items that contain obscenity, violence or pornography.

Senate Bill 17 passed the Senate education committee on a 9-4 vote, with Republicans on the committee supporting the proposal and Democrats voting against it.

Advocates say the bill helps protect kids. Rhonda Miller of Purple for Parents Indiana says some Hoosier parents are concerned with certain materials they’ve found in school and public libraries.

“It’s very alarming and so much of the material is very, very graphic,” Miller said.

Right now, schools and public libraries can defend themselves against charges if they argue the material has an educational purpose. That defense would be removed under Senate Bill 17.

“Up until the last few years, parents had no idea that this exemption even existed,” Miller said. “I didn’t.”

Opponents argue the bill is not necessary.

“There are already policies and procedures in place to request a reconsideration of materials,” said Vanessa Martin, director of the Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library.

Martin said she worries the bill would create fear for some librarians if it becomes law.

“What one parent might be against, the other parent might support,” she said.

The bill passed in committee along party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure. Democrats opposed, arguing there needs to be an administrative process to handle complaints before charges are filed.

“I just cannot agree with the concept that we go from a complaint to prosecution,” said State Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis).

“We’re talking about a criminal act that is very specific, very outlined and documented within code,” said State Sen. Kyle Walker (R-Lawrence).

The bill now heads to the Senate floor. This same proposal is included in House Bill 1134, which regulates school curriculum and bans the teaching of certain concepts.