State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) made an official request earlier this week for an accounting of books in Texas school libraries that include explicit or racially preferential material. The letter he sent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), obtained by The Texas Tribune, comes with a 16-page list of book titles and asks how many of them are in public school libraries and how much money schools have spent to acquire them.
Austin ISD told Hearst Newspapers, parent company of The Houston Chronicle, that it would not respond to the request.
According to the district’s library catalog, Austin ISD schools own several of the books on Krause’s list. Some of those titles include Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter, Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, and Gender Queer.
Krause sent the letter in his official capacity as chairman of the Texas House General Investigating Committee. However, committee vice-chair Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) said she was not aware of the letter until it had already been sent.
The inquiry letter does not describe a concrete purpose in detail. Krause’s staff told The Texan that committee policy prevents them from commenting on current investigations.
The letter does note several instances around the state of parents pressuring schools to remove books for controversial content. For example, a Spring Branch elementary school unshelved the graphic novel The Breakaways for sexually inappropriate content earlier this month. Leander ISD pulled six books in March, including one that described a sex scene between two women.
According to state law, refusal to fulfill the committee’s request may count as contempt of the legislature, a punishable crime.
Texas Government Code grants the legislature and its investigating committees the authority to summon witnesses to testify or produce evidence. A “person” who refuses to fulfill an investigating committee’s request may be prosecuted, fined, and even jailed.
“A person commits an offense if the person: (1) has been summoned as a witness to testify or produce papers by either house or any legislative committee; and (2) refuses to appear, refuses to answer relevant questions, or refuses to produce required books, papers, records, or documents,” the law reads.
“An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $1,000 and by imprisonment for not less than 30 days nor more than 12 months.”
The same chapter grants investigating committees the power to conduct inquiries into “any agency or subdivision of government within the state,” adding in the same subsection that disobeying these requests may lead to a prosecution for contempt of the legislature.
Krause’s letter recalls wording in a first draft of legislation passed earlier this year that attempts to stop “inculcation” of critical race theory in Texas schools. The law that the legislature passed applies to teacher training, classroom instruction, and the state curriculum, but not libraries.
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