2023 Louisiana Legislation Watch
Sponsored by Rep. Paul Hollis
Analysis & Talking Points
HB 25 was deferred involuntarily in committee on May 11 - which means it's dead for this session. After an attempt by its authors to water down the provisions by removing the language regarding giving parish governing authorities the power to regulate and oversee boards of control, as well as adding statutory support for the ability to fire library boards at will (LA RS 33:1415(a)), the committee correctly determined that there was no need for this legislation.
In addition, they also acknowledged all of the people who had called and written as well as the people in the room ready to speak in opposition to this bill. After the hearing, one representative told me directly that every contact she had had with supporters of the bill had been nasty and unpleasant, while every single person who contacted her in opposition had been polite but firm. (This was a Republican legislator, for what it's worth.) She was very clear about whose words had swayed her more. So THANK YOU!
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 whom 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.
1. Current law already provides for parish governmental entities to establish library boards. Giving those governmental bodies the power to abolish the library board "at will" by changing the law to state that the board serves "at the pleasure of the governing authority" creates a situation in which board members feel they must vote the will of the parish governing officers or be removed. This is antithetical to a functioning democracy and not only interferes with the proper conducting of board business but has a chilling effect on the speech of board members.
2. As written this law gives direct control over the library and its employees to the parish governing body. This is an incredibly base insult to the professional librarians who run our public library systems around the state on a daily basis. For local governments to function effectively, governing bodies must trust that the various departments they fund and govern are run on a day-to-day basis by trained, educated professionals, i.e. police, fire, etc. The library system is no different. Micromanaging such a system would render it functionally useless as well as engender mistrust and resentment among the employees of the system.
3. Giving the parish governing authority direct, day-to-day control over library operations also, by definition, gives said body control over complaints regarding the reconsideration of materials. As an outside entity yet another level removed from professional library training (even more so than board members), members of the parish governing bodies have no business making decisions affecting the public library's collection development or collection development policies.
4. Allowing a parish governing authority the power to summarily 'take over' parish library systems, with the power over employees and materials development, is a slippery slope away from true democratic ideals and toward the dangerous road of totalitarianism, when only a single viewpoint is allowed, and other, less "desirable" viewpoints are outlawed.