On this page we'll post updates and analysis of any bills impacting libraries with regards to the censorship or restriction of books and materials currently working their way through the Louisiana state legislature.
To contact your legislators about any of these bills, click HERE.
The Louisiana Legislature will convene on Monday, April 10, 2023.
Senate Bill 7 (SB7)
Sponsored by Senator Heather Cloud (R) - Turkey Creek
Find Out More About Senate Bill 7 HERE.
SB7, prefiled by State Senator Heather Cloud (R-Turkey Creek) attempts to impose state control over local library collection development and reconsideration policies, as well as requiring all public libraries in the state to offer tiered library cards to its patrons. The penalties for non-compliance can include the withholding of public funds from any library not following these new rules, as well as prohibiting the state bond commission from even considering the application to borrow money or levy a tax that benefits the library of any parish or municipality not in compliance with the proposed law.
However, what Senator Cloud failed to mention at the AG's press conference when she announced the legislation was that these policies are already in place at many libraries in Louisiana, and local boards of control in every parish have the power to enact them everywhere without the need for legislation.
The proposed bill also repeatedly refers to "sexually explicit content" allegedly being made available to children in public libraries, though the Attorney General's own report admits that the material it is calling "sexually explicit" "may fall short of material prohibited by criminal laws." In other words, none of the material his office examined fit the legal definition of pornography. Arbitrary definitions of "obscenity" and questions about what makes something offensive are exactly why we have the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miller v. California.
Let's break down the proposed bill's requirements.
Worth noting, before we get into the weeds: Definitions of "digital content," "library patron," "sexual conduct," and "sexually explicit material," are included. Of course, by these definitions, biology books, animal husbandry books, and no small amount of textbooks would be considered "sexually explicit material," so, not a great job on the definitions here.
1) That libraries use "community standards for the population served" as their guide when acquiring materials through purchase or donation. No definition of what "community standards" means or who gets to define it. No definition of how "population served" is defined. This is language cherry picked from obscenity tests in precedent court cases and state obscenity statutes. No mention, of course, of the fact that libraries are exempt from the state statute.
2) That libraries create a tiered card system for minors, including options for a) cards which prohibit minors from checking out ANY material from a collection deemed to contain "sexually explicit material" and b) cards which prohibit minors from checking "out any library material that the library board of control has, through majority vote in an open meeting, identified as sexually explicit material."
Beyond the fact that we're talking about REQUIRING libraries to create cards which prohibit minors from checking out ANY materials from some libraries just because they have books that depict sex in them (Romance genre, anyone? Stephen King? How many countless classic books of literature?) WHO may I ask, is going to go through the THOUSANDS of books in every collection in every library in Louisiana to determine if they meet Jeff Landry's "sexually explicit" definition? Librarians? Newsflash: there aren't enough librarians in the state for that job. "Volunteers?" You may as well just remove every book in the library now, not to mention the fact that there are actually people paid to work there, thank you very much. Is Jeff Landry or Heather Cloud going to volunteer to come help out? I didn't think so.
So on top of an egregious act of lighting the Constitution of the United States on fire, this is a proposed law that is literally unenforceable. It can't be implemented in one library, much less in EVERY library in the state. Throw in the penalty of holding up bond commission applications for non-compliance and this is a nightmare waiting to happen to a state ALREADY at the bottom of every education ranking. How should we fix that problem? Oh, I know! Let's destroy the public library system!
There's also a requirement for another type of card - one that allows minors access to digital content. Of course, the library is required to "list in the library policy each digital content source accessible by minors that contains sexually explicit material."
Just as a point of clarification here - do you mean on their phones or on the library computers? Inside the building or just on library property? Because this is going to take a while.
3) The final requirement insists that libraries rewrite their policies for reconsideration requests, which is a procedure all libraries in Louisiana ALREADY have to field patron complaints about materials content. Apparently AG Landry and Senator Cloud feel like the "contradictory policy" approach is the best way to tackle this one. The first provision is pretty standard - written notification to the patron with regards to the outcome of the reconsideration request, and the right to appeal to the full board of control. The second provision, though, says that requests for reconsideration of "sexually explicit" materials must go through the board of control directly. So...where are those appealed to? And why only the "sexually explicit" RR's? What about the glut of RR's regarding gun violence, for example? The answer is, of course, that the AG and Senator Cloud both know nearly every reconsideration request is filed for something (mostly LGBTQ themes and characters) that falls under his definition of "sexually explicit." Therefore, in effect, under this proposed law every reconsideration request would be heard by the board of control. Not by a committee made up of librarians and board members, as most are now.
And again, the penalties for library systems which do not implement these ill-defined, unenforceable, unnecessary proposed laws, which amount to little more than political grandstanding and posturing during an election campaign, are quite steep. The withholding of local funds by parish councils and police juries. The refusal of the state bond commission to consider the applications for tax elections and loans by municipalities. All to feed the political ambitions of a group of politicians with Jeff Landry at their head.
House Bill 102 (HB102)
Sponsored by Representative Julie Emerson (R) - Carencro & Representative Valarie Hodges (R) - Denham Springs
Find Out More About House Bill 102 HERE.
HB102, prefiled by Reps Julie Emerson (R-Carencro) and Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), is a companion to SB7, therefore its wording is identical. My comments from SB7 apply.
House Bill 25 (HB25)
Sponsored by Representative Paul Hollis (R) - Covington, and Beryl Amedee (R) - Houma
Find Out More About House Bill 25 HERE.
House Bill 25, sponsored by Rep. Paul Hollis, proposes significant changes to the current state laws regarding the establishment and governance of local library boards of control.
Current law provides for parish governments to establish library boards, consisting of five to seven community members, with staggered five-year terms (so that the entire board is not replaced all at once).
HB25 proposes to REPLACE the five-year terms with language that states board members serve "at the pleasure of the governing authority." In other words, parish councils or police juries could appoint who they like to library boards, and those appointees could serve just as long as the councils/juries wish them to. Theoretically, then, library board members might serve as long as council members, or longer: decades, perhaps, with no public recourse and no guaranteed turnover to bring fresh ideas to library governance. Though we agree that some mechanism should be in place to remove board members who act with malfeasance, giving parish governments the blanket authority to remove entire boards simply because they disagree with their political ideology is antithetical to a functioning democracy. Having board members serve at politicians' "pleasure," instead of specific terms of office sets up a situation in which board members are afraid to vote their conscience and instead merely become the instruments of those politicians. If that's the case, why have the board at all? Why not just let the parish governing body run the library directly? Because in effect, that's exactly what this law will do if changed.
Moving on, the language of the current law states that library boards establish rules and regulations for governing itself and for running the library that are not inconsistent with law. HB25 proposes to change the word "law" to "state law or or ordinances of the governing authority." My assumption here is a veiled reference to the state obscenity statutes AG Jeff Landry has been trotting out lately as his evidence of pornography in the state's public libraries. (Note the specific exemption for libraries)
Finally, the proposed law would add language to the existing statute giving parish governing authorities the "power to regulate and oversee the board of control and its officers, employees, and libraries and to conduct the oversight through separate panels, commissions, or boards, which it may create for that purpose." Of particular note here is the fact that the proposed law would give the parish council or police jury direct control over not only the board of control, but the library, the library administration, and its employees.
There are a couple of serious problems with this language. First, it once again makes the assumption that somehow politicians are more capable than trained, professional librarians of running a library system; that the mechanisms and laws that have worked for decades are suddenly somehow "broken," because Jeff Landry and his followers declare it so. This is simply not the case! Our library staff members know very well how to run our public libraries, and do a great job every day!
Would we hand the keys to the police department over to a roomful of politicians and say, "You trained law enforcement officers should get out of the way and let the politicians show you how it's done!" Would we do that with the fire department? Of course not! It makes just as much sense to give the keys to the public library to parish government officials, who have zero training in library science and no experience running a public library. This is why we have professionals in all capacities, in every field - we trust them to do the jobs for which they were hired.
Second, this proposal is, frankly, an incredible and dangerous overreach. Do we really want to give the parish government direct power over the community's hub for learning and information? How easy would it be, at that point, for the parish government to do away with reconsideration policies, and simply decide to ban any book that has a complaint lodged against it? Or, worse still, decide to ban books themselves, simply based on "lists" they find on the Internet?
Our government functions properly, in part, because of the separation of powers. On a smaller scale, that model works even on the local level. When one governmental entity, empowered by law, begins to exert total control over another governmental entity, gobbling it up like a corporate takeover, it's time for citizens to stand up and say NO.