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Bill enhancing penalties for threats against librarians stalls

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(The Center Square) – An Illinois Secretary of State initiated measure that seeks to enhance penalties for those convicted of threatening libraries stalled after the Democrat sponsor pulled the bill from the record.

Long pauses were taken by state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Downers Grove, when she was questioned by a fellow Democratic representative on the House floor Friday. The bill would enhance penalties for those who transmit lewd or offensive behavior against a librarian in any manner.

State Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, said Murray didn’t have a clear definition for lewd and offensive behavior.

“I understand it can be social media, and often is via social media, but it says, ‘transmitted in any manner,’ and I am trying to understand what these other manners might be. If someone flicks someone off, is that considered that same thing?” Tarver asked.

Tarver continued to press Stava-Murray, who had staff assist her in attempting to answer Tarver’s questions.

“So Class 3 felony, no definition for the conduct, and it’ll be fixed in the Senate and we have no language for what that might be,” said Tarver. “Then you also added in language that says, ‘transmitted in any manner including social media,’ so if I come by and flip my middle finger, is that considered lewd and offensive?”

Stava-Murray said the bill would lead to librarians and library staff feeling safe and valued after law enforcement agencies spent time and resources sweeping buildings. Between July 2023 and September 2023, there were 22 known bomb threats at libraries, Stava-Murray said.

Ultimately, she pulled House Bill 4567 from the record after being questioned by Tarver.

Secretary of State and State Librarian Alexi Giannoulias couldn’t tell The Center Square if the 22 bomb threats led to any arrests.

“That’s a police matter and I want to be very careful with what knowledge is out there,” Giannoulias said at a recent news conference. “I don’t know if there’s been an arrest or not.”

The Center Square contacted the Illinois State Police for arrest data. Via email, Sgt. Christopher Watson said it will take time to retrieve such information and that, “we may also not have been involved with every case.”

“If a local department took lead on the case, ISP would not have that information,” he said.

Watson is working on providing the arrest data to The Center Square at a later date.

The Capitol in Springfield has been put on lockdown twice this legislative session. On Saturday, the Illinois Secretary of State Police responded to an Illinois State Police call of a bomb threat outside the Capitol. A lockdown of the Capitol complex was initiated and a sweep was conducted for explosive devices. The threat was ultimately not deemed credible and the Capitol was reopened. A threat in March didn’t lead to any arrests either.

This comes after Illinois became the first state in the country to ban books from being taken off the shelves at public libraries, legislation Giannoulias proposed.

Across the state, library boards have dealt with crowded board meetings filled with parents who take issue with books containing sexual themes. For example, in Bloomington in October 2021, approximately 50 community members attended a meeting where Jesse Simmons, a parent, called on the board to change policies surrounding obscene material.

“I’m not asking for books to be banned,” said Simmons. “I’m asking the library to implement policies that reasonably restrict minors from accessing, viewing and checking out obscene materials.”

Stava-Murray said Friday, everyone should strive to protect and keep open the state’s libraries she said serves children and seniors, “our most vulnerable populations.”

At an unrelated news conference before the bill was pulled, Giannoulias said if people make threats against a library, the protections that are currently given to schools should also apply to libraries.

“I’m baffled that there’s pushback on this and I am disheartened by it,” said Giannoulias.

A day before the bill was removed from the record, Giannoulias predicted it would pass despite infighting within the Democratic caucus over the issue of penalty enhancements.

“I think this bill will pass anyways. There are times where I understand the other side’s position,” he said. “This is not one of those times.”