An area library official recently expressed concern about Missouri House Bill 2044, otherwise known as the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act.” The bill should concern everyone, especially parents, as what it really seeks to do is take away parental oversight of what their kids can read at the library.
As of Tuesday morning, HB2044 is not on the House calendar and there are no hearings scheduled to discuss the bill. That does not, however, mean you shouldn’t be concerned about it.
The bill was introduced by Representative Ben Baker, R-Neosho, and it seeks to change the way libraries select materials for their community and receive funding. In a nutshell, libraries that seek funds from the state would be required to follow a set of rules about juvenile material access.
What is concerning about the bill is that it would require libraries to “establish a parental library review board” that would actually take rights away from parents to decide what their children read. And, it would create the board in a way that takes rights away from voters and taxpayers.
Under the bill, “At least thirty calendar days before the election of a board under this subsection, the governing body of the public library shall notify all qualified voters residing within the library’s geographical area that an election for members of the library’s parental library review board will be held at a regularly convened hearing of the village, town, city, or county in which the majority of the library’s geographical area lies. At such hearing, the qualified voters present shall elect the members of the board by a majority vote. The five individuals receiving the highest number of votes cast by the qualified voters present shall be members of the board.
“The board shall be composed of five adult residents of the public library’s geographical area. Each board member shall serve a term of two years. Any vacancy shall be filled in the same manner in which the member was initially elected, except that if a member vacates the office before the end of the member’s term, the vacancy shall be filled for the remainder of the unexpired term only. No member of the board shall receive any compensation for any actions related to fulfilling board duties. No member of the board shall be an employee of the library, the state, or any political subdivision thereof.
“The board shall determine whether any sexual material provided to the public by the public library is age-inappropriate sexual material. To make such determinations, the board shall convene public hearings at which members of the community may present concerns to the board. After receiving comments from the public, the board shall examine individual instances of the questioned sexual material to determine whether it is age-inappropriate sexual material under this section.
“The board may order any material deemed to be age-inappropriate sexual material to be removed from public access by minors at the public library. Any such determination or order made by the board shall be the final determination or order on such materials and shall not be subject to any review by the governing body of the public library, the state, or any political subdivision thereof. This subdivision shall not be construed to prohibit judicial review of any determination or order made by the board under this section.”
Do we really want members of a review committee for youth materials chosen by their ability to show up to a meeting and garner majority support? That would allow any group to take over the committee and ruling power over local library board officials, who have either been elected by the voters, or appointed by other elected officials to their positions. That is not how democracy works—far from it—especially when the decisions made by these boards will be final!
Libraries already have duly elected or appointed governing boards and well-educated and trained workers who are there to make decisions about what might not be appropriate reading for children. And, unlike this proposed board, they are responsible to the voters on how to exercise that authority.
More importantly, however, parents already have the right to decide what their children should be reading and they should retain that right.
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