AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate Education Committee on Wednesday is considering a bill that would enforce “local community values” in school library books and could expose librarians to criminal penalties for harmful material in their libraries.

Senate Bill 13 would create “school library advisory councils” tasked with ensuring “local community values are reflected in each school library catalog.” Members of each council would be chosen by the school district’s board of trustees.

“The proposed legislation provides increased structure and transparency to the processes and standards for school library book acquisition and review policies to ensure that school library
collections are appropriate for their campuses based on state standards relating to grade, age, and developmental appropriateness, as well as community values,” the bill’s author Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) wrote.

Jonathan Saenz, president and attorney for the conservative advocacy organization Texas Values, said the bill is necessary to keep offensive material out of schools.

“Parents have had enough of being treated like criminals and outsiders by public schools, and parents are tired of finding out too late that the school library has obscene and inappropriate books for kids at school,” he said.

The bill also would subject librarians and teachers to criminal penalties for exposing children to harmful material.

Under current law, a person has an affirmative defense to the crime of distributing harmful material to minors if they do so with an educational justification. SB 13 would remove that justification. Exposing children to harmful material is penalized as a Class A misdemeanor.

The Texas Library Association worries the bill will push librarians away from their career and enforce duplicative review processes.

“We’re seeing great numbers of librarians already leaving the profession, self-censoring materials that are important to have in their collections,” Executive Director of the Texas Library Association Shirley Robinson said. “We’re already dealing with an educator workforce shortage, and we don’t want to add to that, because that’s only going to harm our kids.”

SB 13 also requires schools to notify parents of the books their children check out of their library and clarifies that parents have a right to view their child’s reading history.

Robinson argued these provisions are frivolous and duplicative.

“There are already many policies and procedures in place that librarians utilize on a day to day basis to make sure that their collections are relevant and appropriate for the children that are using those libraries,” she said. “We understand parents want greater transparency about what materials their children are checking out. However, this is going to increase the burden on librarians. Students will end up waiting for months and months to get new books that they might be wanting to read.”

Eanes ISD in West Austin formed a committee to handle these kinds of parental complaints. Their formal review process could be a model for every district should the bill become law.

It’s really challenging for schools. We have parents with very different values and very different belief systems. Having the state come in and possibly decide, you know, what is or is not appropriate, it’s just a challenge for us right now,” Eanes ISD Assistant Superintendent Molly May said.

Their library at Bridge Point Elementary School hosts more than 17,000 books. The district offers many more throughout all of their campuses. District wide, parents have only filed about 130 complaints. Of those, only one title was chosen for removal by a committee of administrators, parents, and librarians.

They stress that while they understand parents’ concerns, they already take measures to protect children from harmful material.

“It’s hard for us to navigate through the system right now and to try to do what we think is best for students,” May said. “Everybody is coming to us from a different place with different interests and needs. And we want to make sure we serve all children.”