Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, speaks about a bill she introduced to restrict minors’ access to certain library materials. Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, center, plans to introduce a similar bill. Attorney General Jeff Landry, right, is supporting both bills. (Photo by Remi Tallo)
After approving a bill without hearing from the opposition a week ago – a violation of the Louisiana Legislature’s norms – the Senate Education Committee was required to reconsider the proposal Thursday to restrict children’s access to content deemed sexually explicit. Once again, members advanced it.
Senate Bill 7, by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, would require libraries to create a card system so parents could prevent their children from checking out books deemed inappropriate. Libraries would also have to adopt policy language to limit minors’ access to material that describes “sexual conduct,” which is defined in five ensuing paragraphs.
The bill was originally advanced from the committee last Thursday after Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, moved for a vote after just three supporters and no opponents were allowed to speak. Several long-time Capitol observers said it was the first time they recalled this happening.
After White made the controversial motion, no members of the committee objected.
The bill advanced Thursday on 5-1 vote, with committee Chair Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, the lone no vote. Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, initially voted against the bill but then changed her vote to support it. Last week, Cloud’s proposal advanced unanimously.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the bill was sent back to the Senate Education Committee to give the opposition a chance to speak. White did not attend the second hearing.
Eleven members of the public came to speak against the bill. WVLA-TV’s Shannon Heckt reported the same number of people signed up to speak in opposition last week.
Former state Sen. Bill Jones, now a member of the Lincoln Parish Library Board of Control, asked the committee to narrow the bill’s definition of sexually explicit, arguing that, as written, the Bible would be considered sexually explicit.
“After all the publicity this bill has generated, the Bible is gonna get reconsidered by some library,” Jones said.
Jones and his fellow board members launched a campaign to oppose Cloud’s bill and several other bills in the legislature targeting libraries.
Fields proposed several amendments Jones suggested that would have watered down Cloud’s bill. They included a revision of Cloud’s definition of sexually explicit material and revocation of the authority the bill gives to local parish governing bodies to withhold public money from libraries that don’t comply.
The committee rejected the amendments, as it did when Fields proposed them last week.
Kathy Wascom, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board, said she and her colleagues passed a resolution opposing Cloud’s bill unless Jones’ proposed changes were made.
Wascom agreed parents have the right to determine what their children read but argued parents have to take responsibility for that, not the libraries.
“The libraries do their very best to protect children,” Wascom said. “They always have, and they cannot act as the parent. The parent is responsible.”
Sonnet Ireland, director of the Washington Parish library system, echoed Jones’ concern that Cloud’s definition of sexually explicit is too broad. Ireland pointed to language in the bill that defined descriptions and depictions of the female nipple and the touching of it as sexually explicit, arguing this could apply to books about breastfeeding and breast cancer.
“This is really much more far reaching than people realize,” Ireland said.
The committee also rejected an amendment by Jackson that would have delayed the bill going into effect until the legislature provided money to fund the proposal. Jackson said she was concerned the proposal would create a burden for smaller library systems with insufficient funding.
The bill next goes back to the Senate for a vote of the body.
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