Gov. John Bel Edwards has not yet decided whether he will veto or sign a controversial bill that seeks to restrict Louisiana minors’ access to material it defines as sexually explicit, but still said he felt the bill is unnecessary. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Wednesday he has not yet decided whether he will veto or sign a controversial bill that seeks to restrict Louisiana minors’ access to material it defines as sexually explicit, but still said he felt the bill is unnecessary.
“I don’t think the bill is necessary,” Edwards said. “The biggest challenge we have with kids in libraries is we don’t have enough kids in libraries who will read the books.”
Edwards said the bill is not an outright ban, as have been passed in other states, and pointed to changes made throughout the process that he felt made the proposal better.
Edwards said he would give the bill “a good hard look” before making a final decision.
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.
After Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, put an amendment on the bill that would have watered down its impact, it was sent to conference committee to work out a compromise between both chambers.
The House and Senate voted to approve the reported compromise, which kept on Magee’s requirement that any challenge to materials at parish libraries to come from within the same parish, but stripped language that would require at least 10 challenges to a single item be filed before a library can take action on it.
The compromise was approved in the House on a 68-26 vote and in the Senate 21-13 vote.
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Cloud’s proposal has the support of Attorney General Jeff Landry, the Louisiana Republican Party-endorsed candidate for governor. The legislation 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 has had local libraries in his crosshairs since November, when he set up a tip line to field concerns about librarians, teachers and other school and library personnel.
At that point, Landry said his office began investigating library content.
“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 when the bill came up in the House Education Committee last month. “Very disturbing things.”
The investigation led Landry to publish the “Protecting Innocence” report that includes excerpts from books he singled out after his months-long inquiry into public libraries. Several of the titles include LGBTQ+ themes and are among the most challenged books in Louisiana and around the nation by groups seeking restrictions similar to Landry’s.
Cloud’s bill would require libraries to set up a card system to allow parents or guardians to choose a card that indicates whether minors are allowed to check out certain materials. The bill also sets new standards for material reviews that would give local library boards the final say on what is sexually explicit. In most parish libraries, a committee of librarians and library employees determine which books are removed from their collections.
If the bill becomes law, libraries would have until June 2024 to adopt policies that comply. Many libraries already have tiered card systems.
The bill sets out financial penalties for libraries that do not comply. It forbids the State Bond Commission from approving the 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.
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