Controversial library bill clears final committee, goes next to Louisiana House

By: - May 23, 2023 2:15 pm
Attorney General Jeff Landry stands behind a sign that says "protecting innocence." Behind him stand two women, Representative Julie Emerson and Senator Heather Cloud

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, left, has called for legislation to restrict what children and teens  can check out from public libraries. (Remi Tallo for Louisiana Illuminator)

The Louisiana House Education Committee advanced a controversial bill Tuesday that seeks to restrict minors’ access to material it defines as sexually explicit, possibly putting it one step away from final legislative approval.

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 the bill defines in five paragraphs.

The bill advanced from the committee on an 8-3 party line vote. Moderate Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, who often bucks her party on social issues, took a long pause during the vote, saying “I don’t know, I don’t know,” before ultimately voting to advance the bill. 

Attorney General Jeff Landry, the Louisiana Republican Party-endorsed candidate for governor, joined Cloud to present the bill. The proposal is a response to ongoing fights in parish library systems where conservative activists have sought to restrict children’s access to certain materials — and in some cases remove them from shelves altogether. Most of the targeted titles touch on LGBTQ+ themes.

Landry said his office began investigating library content last year after being contacted by parents. 

“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, books that contain graphic descriptions of sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on minors,” Landry said. “Very disturbing things.” 

As a result, Landry published the “Protecting Innocence” report that includes excerpts from several books Landry singled out after a months-long investigation into public libraries. Several of the books include LGBTQ+ themes and are among the most challenged books in Louisiana and around the nation by groups seeking restrictions similar to Landry’s. 

A slew of librarians and local library board members opposed to Cloud’s bill took part in Tuesday’s committee. 

“Librarians are trained to assess their collections and to ensure that materials are appropriately accessible,” said Kimberlee Reynolds, a Jefferson Parish library associate . “Members of library boards of control are generally not librarians and generally do not receive this training. They may not be qualified to handle the challenges in a way that protects the rights and freedoms of all community members.” 

Kathy Wascom, a member of the East Baton Rouge Library Board, pointed out that many books have excerpts some may find objectionable. She argued that books need to be considered as a whole, a provision of the Miller Test used to determine obscenity that can be censored. 

Several proponents of the bill argued early sexualization of children leads to adverse mental health outcomes, dating and sexual violence and human trafficking. They cited little evidence that library books with sexual themes, which are shelved in the adult section, are commonly accessed by children, much less how it leads to human trafficking. 

Cloud’s bill does not require books to be shelved in an area inaccessible to minors. 

Also appearing in support of the bill was Slidell minister John Raymond, who Slidell Police said whipped a 4-year-old boy on his buttocks while holding him upside down. Raymond said library books “groom our children towards sexual perversion.” 

“We are at war with those who wish to destroy the morals of our society and rob our children of their innocence,” Raymond told committee members.  

The proposal also sets out financial penalties for libraries that do not comply. It forbids the State Bond Commission from approving financial packages for any construction projects that would benefit a noncompliant library. The proposal would also allow, but not require, local governments to withhold funding from libraries. 

The bill next goes to the House Floor for debate, where it is likely to pass. Gov. John Bel Edwards typically does not indicate whether he will veto proposals before they reach his desk. He has called anti-LGBTQ+ legislation harmful and unnecessary. 


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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.