News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Texas House advances bill that would remove 'sexually explicit' books from school libraries

Opponents of a bill that would remove some library books for being "sexually explicit" protest the Legislation at the state Capitol on April 19, 2023.
Aurora Berry - The Texas Newsroom
Opponents of a bill that would remove some library books for being "sexually explicit" protest the Legislation at the state Capitol on April 19, 2023.

The proposal would also create a statewide policy for how school libraries stock their shelves and require parental permission for materials deemed “sexually relevant.”

The Texas House of Representatives gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a bill that would remove some library books from public schools for being “sexually explicit” and establish a statewide rating system required for book vendors.

The legislation, House Bill 900, has been slammed by critics as a throwback to an era where literacy freedom was under constant attack and books by people of color or those that contained controversial themes were banned.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Jared Pattrson, R-Frisco, said the legislation isn’t about banning books but instead about instilling a uniform policy on what libraries contain. He said this returns power to parents who often don’t know what their children have available to them at schools.

“In more than 3,000 pages of the [Texas] education code, less than half of one page is dedicated to public school library standards,” Patterson said, adding that curriculum materials undergo vigorous vetting before being approved. “Public school libraries have none of these requirements. No approved vendors, no statewide consistency.”

The legislation was deemed a priority by Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose office said in a statement the bill is necessary to address “the rising concern among Texas parents of sexually explicit books and other inappropriate materials in public school libraries.”

The bill, which has been dubbed the READER Act (Restricting Explicit & Adult Designated Educational Resources) would require book vendors to rate books based on how much “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant” material they contain. It would prohibit libraries from purchasing or having books with “sexually explicit material”, which is defined as material “that described, depicted, or portrayed sexual conduct in a way that was patently offensive.” Sexually relevant material is material that “described, depicted, or portrayed sexual conduct” and the book would require parental consent for a student to check out that material.

“We provide parents with the necessary resources to be however lenient or flexible they choose to be regarding their child’s access to sexually related content,” Patterson said.

The legislation would also require the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to adopt policies for state libraries that include prohibiting “the possession, acquisition, and purchase of harmful material, library material rated sexually explicit material by the selling library material vendor, or library material that was pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable as established in constitutional precedent.”

Opponents said the bill, in part, could create a slippery slope where books that weren’t sexually explicit could eventually make the banned list.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, unsuccessfully introduced an amendment that would have required an annual report to the Legislature on the demographic breakdown of both the authors whose books were banned and the main characters in those books.

“Banned books are not new but they have gained new relevance in an escalating culture war that puts books about racism, sexuality, and gender identity at risk in public schools and libraries. The books most frequently challenged tend to have certain themes in common,” Reynolds said. Those books include topics on sexual assault, LGBTQ themes , abortion, teen pregnancy, race and racism, and African American history.

Patterson said his legislation only deals with sexually explicit material and pointed to an amendment he authored that clarified a book cannot be prohibited based on ideas contained in the material or the author or characters’ personal background.

“This is not a race issue or anything like that. This is a problem with sexually explicit material,” he said.

During the House floor debate Wednesday, about 20 people staged a “read in” at the Capitol rotunda to denounce the proposal. Organizers also set up posters showcasing banned books — including YA novel “The Hate U Give” and children’s novel “And Tango Makes Three” — highlighting the reasons various districts have banned the books.

Among them was Charley Rejseck, CEO of BookPeople, Texas’ largest independent book store. She brought “Lonesome Dove,” a Texas Western that has been the subject of debate surrounding the READER Act.

Resjeck said that independent book sellers don’t have a system set to rate the content of books sold to schools. She worries about the impact these restrictions would have on book stores.

“They do not have the credentials needed to rate the books for students,” she said. “That's the librarian’s job. That’s the teacher’s job. It’s not the book seller’s job.”

The bill did have some bipartisan support. State Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was a co-author of the legislation and state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Dallas, said she supported the measure after investigating some of the materials her own children have access to.

“I can 100% guarantee that I found at least 15 books in my district that absolutely have no place in a child’s library,” she said, without elaborating on the titles. “I don’t know if there are any children here on the floor so I am not going to give some of the details. But I will submit to you that books that tell children that the internet is a great place to research their kinky sexual fantasies and to meet strangers, is not appropriate.”

The bill passed 95 to 53 and needs to be approved a final time before heading to the Texas Senate for consideration.

Aurora Berry is the 2023 Legislative Fellow for The Texas Newsroom.