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Texas House passes bill to ban sexually explicit books from school libraries

Eleven Democrats joined Republicans in passage.

Published: April 21, 2023 11:27pm

(The Center Square) -

The Texas House, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans, passed a bill that seeks to ban sexually explicit books from being in public school and classroom libraries.

HB 900, filed by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, advanced out of committee after a six-hour hearing during which concerned parents and citizens expressed support for the measure and opponents argued sexually explicit and pornographic content should be in taxpayer-funded school libraries and classrooms. The House passed the bill on Thursday by a vote of 95 to 52.

Identified as a legislative priority by Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, the bill would require library material vendors to review the content they sell to public and open-enrollment schools and prohibit all material deemed “sexually explicit” from entering or remaining in public school and classroom libraries.

The bill would mandate book ratings for book vendors, promote parental consent to subject matter, mandate library standards established by the State Board of Education and the Texas State Library Archives Commission, and require local review and reporting, according to a summary published by Patterson.

Patterson began the process of addressing sexually explicit materials in public schools 18 months ago, he said in a statement, which led to a bipartisan group of state legislators supporting the bill. He also said he was “extremely disappointed in those who voted against removing radically explicit content from the hands of Texas kids.”

The bill follows a 2021 letter Gov. Greg Abbott sent to the Texas Association of School Boards directing the Texas Education Agency to investigate obscene content in public schools. The TASB said it has “no regulatory authority over school districts and does not set the standards for instructional materials, including library books.”

Shortly thereafter, in November 2021, Patterson requested all independent school districts to report if their public school libraries possessed the explicit book “Gender Queer, a Memoir,” which includes sexually explicit images. School districts like Keller ISD admitted the book “should never be available in the school environment,” and removed it.

Patterson found that the book and other graphic materials were in multiple public school libraries, he said. HB 900 seeks to “resolve issues relating to library material with graphic content, library standards, and lack of parental control regarding library material by providing for the rating of library material that is sexually relevant or sexually explicit and for a list of such materials to be submitted to TEA and posted to the TEA website.”

It also would create standards for library collection development, including prohibiting the purchase of sexually explicit library material, and creating standards for library material selection and removal.

The bill would require parental consent before a student is allowed to access rated material and require districts and schools to review and report the content of certain materials in their library catalog every other year to the state.

The bill doesn’t “expressly create a criminal offense, increase the punishment for an existing criminal offense or category of offenses, or change the eligibility of a person for community supervision, parole, or mandatory supervision,” according to the bill analysis.

After the House passed the bill, Phelan said, “As both a lawmaker and a parent, it’s important that we empower parents to have better visibility into what materials are available to their children in school libraries and to implement better safeguards to prevent explicit materials from being available on campuses in our state.”

The Senate passed a similar bill, SB 13, filed by Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, which passed along party lines by a vote of 18-12.

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.

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