Colorado Senate Committee Restores Display Ban to Minors' Access Bill

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On Monday, March 15, the Colorado Senate State Affairs Committee restored to a "minors' access" bill a measure to ban the display of materials considered harmful to minors -- a move that booksellers hope will ultimately backfire because, they contend, it renders the "harmful to minors" bill blatantly unconstitutional. Colorado's House of Representatives had eliminated the display provision from the bill over a month ago.

With or without the display ban, booksellers want the bill voted down. "The fact is, [adding the display provision back in] may help [us defeat the bill] because it makes it less palatable," said Lisa Knudsen, executive director of the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association (MPBA). "The [restored provision] makes the bill more egregious."

In late January, a week after it removed the display ban, Colorado's House of Representatives voted overwhelming in favor of the bill (H.B. 1078), which would make it illegal to allow a minor access to any material considered "harmful to minors." Even without the display ban measure, MPBA argued the bill was vague, would be impossible to uphold, and could place severe restrictions on the availability of constitutionally protected materials.

"Merchants cannot know all the materials in their store," Pat Steadman, a lobbyist for MPBA, told BTW in an interview following the House vote in January. "It is an impossible standard to hold merchants to, knowing what's in every magazine, DVD, CD, book, and then to determine what's harmful to minors." He noted that the term "harmful to minors" is "not readily definable. There are different opinions as to what is harmful…. Reasonable people can come to different conclusions."

Despite the protests of booksellers, Senator Doug Lamborn, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, decided to amend the bill to put the display ban back in and the committee voted 4-3 in favor, as reported by the Denver Post. The Post noted that under the revised bill, booksellers, libraries, video stores, and other commercial establishments would be required to remove displays from their windows or shelves if they are deemed harmful to minors.

Booksellers are hoping that Lamborn's decision will end up working in their favor. Said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, "The [Senate] committee has made the bill more unconstitutional than it was already, so that will make it easier to oppose [the bill] on the floor. As it stands, it would have a strong chilling effect on the display of constitutionally protected materials."

The Colorado Senate could vote on the bill as soon as Friday, March 19. --David Grogan