Leading up to Sep 1 of this year, we saw a lot in the news about several pieces of legislation that were set to go into effect. The new laws targeted everything from driving to harsher penalties regarding illicit drugs. One thing that didn't seem to get as many headlines was a piece of legislation aimed at books.
What is up with Texas and its massive war on books this year?
HB900 And The War Over What Students Read
The piece of legislation is HB 900. Basically, this law is supposed to cleanup the shelves of public school libraries by banning books that are "patently offensive" and don't adhere to "current community standards of decency."
It also creates a rating system so that books can be marked as "sexually relevant" or "sexually explicit." Relevant books will require parents to consent to their children checking out the books. Explicit books must be removed.
Who gets to make that distinction? The vendors. If there's a disagreement over the rating, then the Texas Education Agency gets to make the decision. It sounds like a bit of mess.
Of Course, There Was A Lawsuit
Governor Abbott signed HB 900 into law, and it was set to go into effect on Sep 1. However, a federal judge temporarily blocked it. The lawsuit was filed by booksellers and industry groups, as you might expect.
One of the big factors sited by these groups was the vagueness of the legislation. Also, it applies to materials that have already landed in public school libraries. The task of going back and adding these ratings to all of that material, and new material, is intense. The word "impossible" was used.
Another issue is what happens when a rating is disputed. The TEA is then given the task of assigning a rating, and if the seller doesn't adhere to that rating they risk not being able to sell their books to the library.
They also cite First Amendment concerns.
Is This Just A New Face On A Battle Long Fought?
This legislation is reminiscent of several news stories in recent years regarding banning certain books from classrooms; and it's a debate that has raged for as long as I can remember.
Is this legislation going to be how Texas handles the fight in the future? Is it too vague and the burden it places on vendors too great?
We'll have to wait and see.