Louisiana library bill mandating new card system for minors passes house committee
Republican members of Louisiana’s House Education Committee indicated Tuesday they may want more restrictions on what they called explicit material in the state’s public libraries while discussing a bill that would require libraries to create library card systems to prevent children from checking out adult content.
The bill would require the public libraries to create a children’s library card system that would allow parents to prevent their children from checking out books that contain “sexually explicit materials.” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has been one of the driving forces behind the bill, which has been broadly criticized by LGBTQ+ and the Louisiana Library Association.
The committee reported the bill favorably by an 8-3 vote.
More:Louisiana AG releases report on 'sexually-explicit' content in public libraries
“Our goal was to empower parents with knowledge and encourage them to decide for themselves if this sexually explicit material is appropriate for their children,” Landry said.
The AG’s office released a report in February detailing some of the books his office considered to be explicit. Several of the books have been targeted by book bans in other states – though Landry and other supporters of the bill have pushed back against calling the bill an effort to ban books – and many deal with LGBTQ+ issues.
The books listed tend to be marketed toward teenagers and young adults.
The legislature also has drawn sharp criticism for the way it has handled this bill throughout the legislative process. When it was discussed during a long Senate Education Committee meeting, Sen. Bodi White, a Baton Rouge Republican and the board chair, chose to end debate on the bill and report it favorably without allowing any public comments from those who opposed the bill. Two supporters of the bill were allowed to speak.
White was heard on a hot mic telling a colleague, "They can speak without me. I'm leaving. I've got 14 people waiting on me."
During Tuesday’s meeting, there was some confusion about what the bill actually did. Landry erroneously claimed that it would ensure that books with explicit content are removed from children’s sections of the library, but the bill does not necessarily require any books be moved.
Rep. Beryl Amedee, a Republican from Houma, also asked whether the bill would allow children to read potentially explicit material in the library to check it out. The bill would not prevent children from reading a book at the library, which is something both Amedee and the committee’s chair, Republican Rep. Lance Harris from Alexandria, said they might want to address in the future.
More:Louisiana senators refuse to let opposition testify, advance library restriction bill
“They can go in there… sit down and start reading the book right now?,” Harris asked a staff member from the Louisiana Department of Justice during the hearing. “That seems like it would come into play on the next library tax.”
Other legislators asked about the penalties that could be imposed against the libraries that are seen as not following the proposed law. The bill would allow local governing bodies to withhold payments to the libraries and would prohibit the state’s bond commission from authorizing taxes benefitting the libraries that are not in compliance.
Sen. Heather Cloud, a Republican from Turkey Creek who brought the bill, was sharply critical of the state’s libraries, saying they have not done “their due diligence” in creating standards similar to what the bill would require. She said it would be up to the local government to determine whether a library is in compliance.
“They should have already done this, and they haven’t,” Cloud said.
Several library advocates argued against the bill, saying that it was not clear what necessarily qualified as explicit and about how these systems would be implemented for smaller systems.
Peyton Rose Michelle, the executive director of Louisiana Trans Advocates, said the definition of sexual conduct and sexually explicit material, as well as the definition of community standards, was too broad and could result in some books – including the Bible – being banned.
Harris and Rep. Julie Emerson, a Republican from Carencro, balked at the characterization that the bill would ban any books. But Michelle said the bill requires libraries to account for “community standards” when deciding to add books to its collection or accept a donation.
Michelle also said that when libraries are flooded with challenges to books, some of the books at issue are removed from the shelves for so long that they are effectively banned.
“What we’ve seen happen is that so many reconsideration requests are filed that (books) are pulled from shelves for such a long period of time that they are almost basically banned,” Michelle said.
Landry said his office began receiving calls about explicit materials in public libraries around nine months ago, but several of the bill’s opponents didn’t buy Landry’s explanation. Several alluded to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other prominent Republican politicians using libraries as a “culture wars” issue to boost their political profiles.
They see it as Landry trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
“This bill will solve nothing and create several problems,” said Lisa Rustemeyer of Covington. “It is a political tactic, especially from what I’ve seen in my parish…There is no problem that we have in Louisiana that needs this bill to mandate from a state level.”