Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Opponents of House Bill 30 say its ill-defined language could leave retailers liable for openly displaying such ubiquitous magazines as Men’s Health, Maxim, or Us Weekly, which regularly have cover photos of scantily clad people. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Bill to prevent open display of magazines ‘harmful to minors’ draws fire

Measure would also apply to books, newspapers

ANNAPOLIS – Legislation to bar retailers from openly displaying magazines, newspapers and books that contain salacious material “harmful to minors” drew fire Wednesday from retailers and news organizations as unconstitutionally vague.

The bill’s opponents said the lack of clarity regarding what is “harmful to minors” could leave retailers potentially liable for placing on their shelves mainstream magazines featuring celebrities or advising people on how to lead healthy lives.

House Bill 30 defines printed material as “harmful to minors” if it contains “a description, an exhibition, a presentation or a representation in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement that predominantly appeals to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interest of minors, is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors and is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

The bill would prohibit retailers from offering for sale such “harmful” materials in an open display or within easy reach of minors. The books, materials or other printed material may be displayed “behind an opaque covering” that reveals “no more than the title, name, price and date of the publication.”

Del. William J. Wivell, R-Washington County and H.B. 30’s sponsor, defended the legislation as necessary “to protect minors.”

But Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said the bill’s vagueness is particularly “alarming” in its use of the phrase “sexual excitement.”

Such ill-defined language could leave retailers liable for openly displaying such ubiquitous magazines as Cosmopolitan, Us Weekly or Men’s Health, which regularly have cover photos of scantily clad people, Tolle told the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on the bill.

“What’s enticing to someone might not be enticing to another,” Tolle said. “We have to be careful how we are defining this issue.”

Ellen Valentino, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association, said operators of service-station convenience stores are already careful not to display adult magazines where children can see them.

“We don’t want to be offensive to parents and their children, because we want them to buy that Slurpee,” Valentino told the committee.

A retailer who violates the statute would face a civil fine of $100 for the first infraction and $300 for each subsequent one. After the first infraction, the retailer would have 30 days to comply with the law. After the second infraction, a citation could be issued each day that the retailer remains in violation of the statute.

The Maryland Coalition Against Pornography stated in written testimony that the bill’s definition of “harmful” material does not go far enough and should bar the open display of material depicting “excretion,” in addition to nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement.

The coalition commended the imposition of a monetary penalty but said the Judiciary Committee should “consider a more severe, higher fine.” However, the coalition did not specify an amount.

“It is hoped that these measures will provide a deterrent to retail stores from the tasteless, exploitative displays of more ‘adult’ media alongside more mainstream publications, or even near cashier checkout stands or the candy racks,” the coalition added. “If codified, perhaps stores will be more rigorous in self-regulating their displays to avoid these penalties.”

The Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association, in written testimony, assailed the bill’s language as “overbroad,” saying the definition of “harmful to minors” casts a “wide net [that] could adversely affect printed publications, like newspapers.”

The Daily Record is a member of the association.