Although he previously called the measure unneeded, Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a controversial bill into law that seeks to restrict Louisiana minors’ access to material it defines as sexually explicit. (Photo by Remi Tallo)
Although he previously called the measure unneeded, Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a controversial bill into law that seeks to restrict Louisiana minors’ access to material it defines as sexually explicit.
“I don’t think the bill is necessary,” Edwards, a Democrat, said earlier this month. “The biggest challenge we have with kids in libraries is we don’t have enough kids in libraries who will read the books.”
A spokesperson for Edwards was not immediately able to provide an explanation for Edwards’ decision to sign the bill.
Senate Bill 7, by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, requires libraries to create a card system so parents can prevent their children from checking out books deemed inappropriate. Libraries will also have to adopt policy language to limit minors’ access to material that describes “sexual conduct,” which the new law defines in five paragraphs.
Free speech activists were dismayed at the governor’s decision to sign the bill.
“SB 7 takes power away from library processes that work, and in turn imposes a costly statewide ‘solution’ in search of a problem,” Amanda Jones, former president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, said in a statement to the Illuminator.
A’Niya Robinson, advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Louisiana, raised concerns about the implications for LGBTQ+ youth.
“We are disappointed in Governor Edwards’ decision to sign SB 7 into law, which encourages viewpoint-based discrimination,” Robinson said in a statement to the Illuminator. “Given the recent attacks we’ve seen on education and LGBTQ+ youth in our state, it’s especially important for institutions like our public libraries to have materials that explain various viewpoints and histories.”
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Cloud’s bill was supported by 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.
Jones argued the new law can be used to further aid those activists.
“This law will have unintended consequences for Louisiana children and their abilities to read, learn, research, and grow,” Jones said. “ In library systems with a large number of challenges, evidence shows a single person is often responsible for multiple requests (to remove titles). They are working from centralized lists of books, are subverting established processes, creating an administrative burden for library staff and taking away important time for serving library patrons.”
Jones’ comment references the St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, a conservative organization that has filed well over 100 challenges to titles in the parish library system, making up a huge portion of the over 1,200 challenges filed nationwide.
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 in May. “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.
Landry’s report was referenced repeatedly in legislative hearings on Cloud’s bill.
The new law will take effect Aug. 1. Libraries will be required 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 creates 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.
Libraries have until June 2024 to adopt policies that comply.
If libraries do not comply, the law forbids State Bond Commission from approving financial packages for any construction projects that would benefit them. The law also allows, but does not require, local governments to withhold funding from libraries.
While the law does not ban specific books, critics worry that it is just the first step.
“As we have said from the beginning, this bill paves the way for book bans across Louisiana, financially penalizing libraries that do not have the means to comply, while doing nothing to solve the great number of actual problems we are dealing with,” Lynette Mejía, cofounder of Louisiana Citizens Against Censorship, said in a statement to the Illuminator.
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