North Dakota book ban bills advance

The bills have prompted library displays of books that might be banned, as well as "read-in" protests and libraries' informational sessions about their policies.

Carts display books Feb. 28, 2023, in the Fargo Public Library that may be banned by the North Dakota Legislature.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

BISMARCK โ€” North Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday moved bills targeting books with sexual content further along, with one bill nearing final passage.

The Senate adopted amendments and in a veto-proof 39-7 vote passed House Bill 1205 by House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson.

The bill goes back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments. If the House doesn't concur, a conference committee of representatives and senators will reconcile differences.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced Senate Bill 2360 by Sen. Keith Boehm, R-Mandan, giving it a 10-3 "do pass" recommendation. House budget writers would review the bill's estimated costs if it passes the House.

Supporters say the bills would protect children from pornography. Opponents say they are censorship.


The bills have prompted library displays of books that might be banned, as well as "read-in" protests and libraries' informational sessions about their policies.

The 701 Library Advocacy Taskforce has planned a "silent read-in" from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Friday on the steps of the state Capitol.

Much of the bills' support is linked to visual nudity in drawings in the book "Let's Talk About It."

Senate passage

Lefor's bill would remove or relocate "explicit sexual material" from public libraries' children's collections.

Mike Lefor.jpg
North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson

The Senate Judiciary Committee amended the broader House-passed version of the bill to be specific to minors and children's collections.

The bill defines "explicit sexual material" as "any material which, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community in North Dakota as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."

The bill would mandate public libraries to come up with policies and procedures before next year for removing or relocating "explicit sexual material," handling requests to remove or relocate books, developing age-appropriate book collections, and periodically reviewing collections.

Libraries also would have to submit a "compliance report" on their policies to lawmakers.


The bill also makes clear it would apply to "any children's book inventory maintained by a public library."

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, said the bill meets the Miller test, a longtime legal determination for what is obscene.

Janne Myrdal

She said, "This has become an issue in our public libraries," referencing research done by Boehm's daughter-in-law, her sister and other people who Boehm said uncovered "sexually explicit content" in 40 libraries statewide.

Boehm told the Tribune the group curated 12 books by citing the American Library Association finding of the titles as the most challenged due to "sexually explicit graphics and/or language, profanity, violence, and depictions of child abuse."

Myrdal told the Senate, "If you've taken some of these linguistic explanations and things in some of these books and the drawn pictures of it, if that had been a video of live human beings and children ... it would have been literally a crime scene, according to the courts."

Boehm said the two bills may appear similar, but Lefor's bill "is merely a relation. They cover different things."

Sen. Ryan Braunberger, D-Fargo, said the two bills have "an underlying intent to target individuals of the LGBTQ community, and this is just step one," with more bills to come.

North Dakota Sen. Ryan Braunberger, D-Fargo, speaks on the Senate floor at the state Capitol on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

"We need a diversity of thought in this community and in this state. We need to have independence, and we're not always going to agree," Braunberger said.


The House in February passed a previous form of the bill in a veto-proof 65-28 vote.


The House Judiciary Committee amended Boehm's bill and advanced it for a House vote, refining the definition of "explicit sexual material" to mirror Lefor's bill.

The Senate in February passed the bill by a veto-proof 38-9.

The amended bill would criminalize with a misdemeanor charge the willful display of "explicit sexual material that is harmful to minors" at "newsstands or any other business establishment frequented by minors, or where minors are or may be invited as a part of the general public." The bill adds public libraries and public school libraries to the latter places.

The bill's definition of "explicit sexual material" mirrors that of Lefor's bill.

The bill also would target material "principally made up of depictions of nude or partially denuded human figures posed or presented in a manner to exploit sex, lust, or perversion for commercial gain."

A "public library for limited access for educational research purposes carried on at such an institution by adults only" is exempt from criminal liability under the bill.

Employees of school districts, state agencies and public libraries could face a misdemeanor charge for willfully exposing "explicit sexual material" to a minor.


The bill also would require public libraries and public school libraries to submit an annual report to lawmakers about "provider compliance with technology protection measures" the bill would require for digital or online library database resources for K-12 students, to prevent viewing of "explicit sexual material."


Boehm's bill already has vocal, bipartisan opposition in the House.

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, said the amended bill is more "palatable," but she questioned the need for it.

Shannon Roers Jones. Special to The Forum
Shannon Roers Jones

"All of the testimony that we talked about or heard was either related, in the case of 1205, to one or two books that were in two schools that were a local issue that were solved at the local level," Roers Jones told the House panel. "I'm not sure why we need to change the law statewide to try and solve a problem that was resolved at the local level."

Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, agreed, saying, "This is really a disturbing bill."

"When we see this kind of legislation in history, it's at the beginning of more repressive movements, and I think we're better than that in North Dakota," said the House panel's lone Democrat.


The State Library has estimated it would need over $3.6 million for the next two years for 109 temporary staff and a full-time professional librarian to handle a review process of the library's fiction collection, ebooks and magazines if Boehm's bill passes.

Budget writers would review the bill's estimated costs if the House passes the bill.


North Dakota's 83 public libraries collectively owned 4.9 million items in 2021, according to the State Library.

Under State Library salary data, "The average library would need $7,117,017 in additional funds for staff to review their collection," according to the bill's fiscal note, which outlines the estimated costs.

What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads