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Louisiana advances bill to restrict youth to 'sexually explicit' public library books

Posted at 7:30 AM, May 24, 2023

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Activists in Louisiana are voicing concerns over a bill advancing through the GOP-controlled Legislature to restrict children and teens' access to public library books deemed “sexually explicit,” saying the proposal could be used to target LGBTQ+ content.

Around the country this year, lawmakers have debated banning gender-affirming care for minors, restricting bathroom access of transgender students and determining what shouldn't be discussed in school curriculums. Now, legislators are facing questions about what material should be accessible in public and school libraries, often focusing on books with LGBTQ+ themes.

Louisiana' s bill, which advanced out of a legislative committee Tuesday and is headed to the full House for debate and possible final passage, would require public libraries to create a card system that would prevent children from checking out “sexually explicit material” unless they have parental approval. Additionally, the bill would allow parents to bring books they feel are inappropriate to a local board for review of the material.

Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is running for governor this year, attended Tuesday's committee meeting in which he urged lawmakers to support the bill. He described the proposed policy as similar to parental controls on Netflix or the Motion Picture Association’s film rating system.

“All this bill does is simply ensure that our libraries are grading books, that are coming into them, and placing them on age appropriate shelves,” Landry said.

Republicans argue that legislation limiting access to certain content is not meant to target the queer community, but rather to protect children from accessing inappropriate material and strengthening parental rights. Across the aisle, however, opponents say this is another attack on the LGBTQ+ community's existence and that it addresses an issue that is not an immediate problem and could result in censorship.

From Florida to North Dakota, bills seeking to ban certain books or limit minors' access to the material are being debated.

In Florida, Iowa and Indiana, lawmakers have passed bills that would require school libraries to publish a searchable list of books where individuals can then challenge specific titles, making it easier to censor certain materials. In North Dakota, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, recently signed a bill into law that would bar explicit materials from the children’s sections of local and school libraries.

A recent study by The American Library Association found that books with LGBTQ+ themes remain the most likely targets of bans or attempted bans. Similarly, after Landry launched a statewide tip line in Louisiana last year — to field complaints about librarians, teachers, and school and library personnel — he released a report that listed nine books his office considers “sexually explicit” or inappropriate for children. Seven have LGBTQ+ storylines.

“What we discovered in those libraries were graphic illustrations of young adults engaging in sexual activities, detailed descriptions of young adults engaging in sexual acts, books that discuss how to perform said deeds,” Landry said, calling those “very disturbing things.”

Librarians, across the state have repeatedly said that graphic sexual materials are not in children's sections, but rather shelved in adult areas of the building. Additionally, they say that public libraries already have “policies in place to safeguard children from sexually explicit material” and that every library has a system in which community members can challenge or file concerns about a book.

“I’ve been disheartened to see people in our state paint an inaccurate portrait of and disinformation about our state’s libraries,” said Amanda Jones, president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. “We have never had an issue with our libraries until they started being used for political gain.”

Under Louisiana's proposed legislation, libraries that fail to implement the new policy would be at risk of financial penalties — as the State Bond Commission would be forbidden from approving financial packages for library construction projects and local governments can choose to withhold funding.

Other states have also proposed punishments for those who don't comply with similar restrictions. In North Dakota, a bill that was vetoed by the governor had proposed criminal penalties for librarians who refuse to remove offending books. In Oklahoma, libraries face a downgrade in accreditation if found in violation of new rules that target books with “pornographic” or “sexualized content."

The Louisiana bill, if it passes, would be sent to the desk of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has not said whether he would veto such legislation. If the bill ultimately becomes law, it would take effect Aug. 1.