Texas would set new standards and ratings for sexually explicit material in order to ban books from public and charter school libraries, under a bill given final passage by the state Senate late Tuesday night and sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Texas move is the latest attempt to ban or regulate reading material in conservative states around the country. Critics say the standards set in the Texas bill are too vague, will snag books that are not inappropriate, and that materials dealing with LGBTQ+ subject matter are more likely to be targeted for bans.
The bill passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature defines “sexually explicit material” as anything that includes descriptions, illustrations or audio depicting sexual conduct not relevant to required school curriculum, and prohibits it from school libraries.
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The bill requires the state’s Library and Archives Commission to adopt standards that schools must follow when purchasing books, and a rating system that would be used to restrict or ban some material.
“What we’re talking about is sexually explicit material … that doesn’t belong in front of the eyes of kids,” said the bill sponsor, Sen. Angela Paxton, a Republican. “They shouldn’t be finding it in their school library.”
Abbott, a Republican, previously joined a former GOP lawmaker’s campaign to investigate the use of books in schools covering topics of race, gender identity and sexual orientation. That inquiry included a list of more than 800 books.
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In April, leaders of a rural central Texas county considered closing their public library system rather than follow a federal judge’s order to return books to the shelves on themes ranging from teen sexuality and gender to bigotry and race.
Under the measure passed Tuesday night, book vendors would have to rate books based on depictions or references to sex. “Sexually relevant” material that describes or portrays sex but is part of the required school curriculum could be checked out with a parent’s permission.
A book would be rated “sexually explicit” if the material is deemed offensive and not part of the required curriculum. Those books would be removed from school bookshelves.
State officials will review vendors’ ratings and can request a rating change if they consider it incorrect. School districts and open-enrollment charter schools will be banned from contracting with book sellers who refuse to comply.