Judiciary B (House); Education (Senate); Judiciary A (Senate)


Phillip Gunn


2023 Session


Latest Action

The Senate Education Committee failed to take action on HB 1341 by the February 28 deadline, causing the bill to die in committee.

Explanation of the Bill

House Bill 1341 would prohibit public schools and public libraries from offering “digital or online resources or databases” if any of the resources available contain content that is deemed “obscene,” “inappropriate,” or “sexually oriented.” It is unclear what the bill’s author intended, but if this bill was written only to prevent library users from searching the internet for objectionable content (i.e., pornography), the bill far exceeds that goal as it would lead to a wide-ranging digital book ban. It may also make it burdensome for public schools and libraries to use any digital content, as they would be charged with determining whether a vendor’s labeling of mature content complies with the vast and vague definitions in the law. Finally, because physical books are now cataloged using digital databases, it is also unclear how this bill affects online card catalogs, particularly in public libraries. 

The banned content is extensive and includes more than objectively repugnant material such as child pornography, which is not found in any library vendor’s database as this content is illegal. However, the statute also bans content that is “obscene” or “sexually oriented” and the definitions of these terms are excessively broad, including anything relating to “homosexuality” or “sexual intercourse” generally. Under HB 1341, any books or other content discussing these topics would be effectively prohibited from public schools and public libraries statewide, regardless of the age of the reader.

Banned Content

As stated above, prohibited content under HB 1341 includes child pornography; “materials that depict or promote child sexual exploitation or trafficking”; “obscene” materials; “inappropriate” materials; and materials that are “sexually oriented.” While child pornography and the promotion of child sex trafficking is obviously abhorrent, the definitions of “obscene” and “sexually oriented” materials are excessively broad.

Under HB 1341, materials considered “obscene” include

  • Materials that lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”
  • Material that “depicts or describes” sexual contact
  • Material “to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, taken as a whole… appeals to the prurient interest, that is, a lustful, erotic, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion”

Under § 97-5-27 (an existing code section that is referenced by HB 1341), materials considered “sexually oriented” include any “representations or descriptions” of

  • Homosexuality or “lesbianism”
  • “Excretory functions”
  • Sexual intercourse
  • “Physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or the breast or breasts of a female for the purpose of sexual stimulation, gratification or perversion”

The general censorship of any content including descriptions of sexual intercourse would ban wide swaths of classic and contemporary literature, from Shakespeare to George Orwell’s 1984 to perhaps even the Bible, not to mention popular romance novels or books by authors such as Stephen King. The statutory definition of “sexually oriented” would also effectively ban any LGBTQ-related content. Other prohibitions, such as materials that lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” are subjective enough that it is difficult to anticipate which content they might apply to–or who, exactly, gets to decide.

Verification of Compliance

Under HB 1341, the entity or vendor providing “digital or online resources or databases” used by public schools or public libraries would be required to verify that all resources comply with the content standards listed in HB 1341. Failure to verify compliance would require the school district or public library to withhold payment to the entity or vendor and, if the entity or vendor continues to fail to comply, to terminate the contract. The entity or vendor would be required to provide the school district or public library with a complete refund. The State Auditor would be tasked with confirming compliance by school districts and public libraries.

Regardless of which entity or vendor provides “digital or online resources or databases,” HB 1341 would primarily affect the ability of public schools and public libraries to provide content to students and the general public. Virtually all resources provided by a public school or public library are either digital content offered online or physical content cataloged using a digital database. All of these resources would be subject to the prohibitions in HB 1341. In order for a public school or public library to comply with state law under HB 1341, they would be required to remove these resources.

Unrelated to questions over what content is appropriate for students, these restrictions would be particularly onerous on public libraries, as they serve users of all ages. Even though public libraries may currently apply age restrictions on certain books, HB 1341 has been amended to restrict all offered content—regardless of a reader’s age. Public libraries would be required to purge their collections of a wide range of literature that falls under the restrictions in HB 1341 (see “Banned Content” section), even if these titles were previously only available to adults. These restrictions would apply to digital collections offered through online services like Libby, but also likely to physical collections, as these books are often digitally cataloged.
Even after a likely purge of physical book collections, public libraries and public schools alike would be tasked with finding vendors for offering online services that would allow libraries and schools to hand-pick available content. They would also be tasked with the onerous process of hand-picking that content. Some services, like Libby, allow libraries to choose which ebooks and audiobooks to provide. Others, such as myON, offer a library of content which is not customizable. While myON, for example, is geared toward younger audiences, the expansive restrictions under HB 1341 are bound to prohibit at least some of the thousands of digital books and news articles offered through this service.

1/16/23On January 16, HB 1227 was referred to the House Education Committee.
1/31/23On January 31, the House Judiciary B Committee passed a committee substitute for HB 1341.
2/2/23On February 2, the House amended HB 1341 to extend the content ban to Mississippians regardless of age. Initially, the bill was only to prevent children under the age of 15 from accessing this content. The House then unanimously passed HB 1341.
2/15/23On February 15, HB 1341 was referred to the Senate Education Committee and Senate Judiciary A Committee.
2/28/23The Senate Education Committee failed to take action on HB 1341 by the February 28 deadline, causing the bill to die in committee.