House Bill (HB) 900, called the “READER Act,” by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) would prohibit “sexually explicit materials” in schools, sanction vendors who supply those materials to schools, and require parents to opt their child in to being able to access any “sexually relevant material” in school. Vendors must maintain a rating system for the books they supply.
“Sexually explicit material” is defined as a portrayal of sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way.”
The bill made Speaker Dade Phelan’s (R-Beaumont) list of priority legislation for the session. It’s also among the Texas GOP’s legislative priorities.
Testimony on the bill was heard in the Public Education Committee, which illustrated an interesting fracture within the minority party.
Rep. James Talarico (D-Austin) pressed Patterson more than any other member of the committee, making his opposition to the legislation clear. Talarico said that the bill is broad enough to encompass books like “Of Mice and Men,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and the Bible — a contention Patterson rejected, saying the Texas Education Agency would “know whether [the book in question] is [inappropriate for school libraries] or isn’t.”
But after Talarico concluded, Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) jumped in to say to Patterson, “I didn’t know how big of an issue this was until you brought it to my attention.”
Longoria is one of four joint authors on HB 900, which has 22 coauthors, all of whom are Republicans.
The House Public Education Committee approved Patterson’s bill by a vote of 10 to 2. Three Democrats on the committee voted to approve it: Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Alma Allen (D-Houston), and Longoria. Two Democrats voted against: Talarico and Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin).
Dutton told The Texan, “I think some people were testifying on both sides who’ve never read the bill, because what the bill does is ask the book publishers to develop a rating system.”
“I don’t know why [other Democrats] would be against it. It’s like the movies — they rate movies — so why couldn’t they rate books?”
On Monday, Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) joined the fray.
“Disgraceful,” Thierry said on Twitter, responding to an image from “Gender Queer” posted by State Republican Executive Committeewoman Christin Bentley. “The content is clearly intended to encourage kids to try extreme sex acts, with illustrations making light of the harms associated with underage sex [and] porn. As a parent [and] Member of the [Texas Legislature], I challenge any of my colleagues to read this book aloud on the back [microphone].”
That image shows illustrations of oral sex between the book’s characters.
Thierry then said the book was found in Houston ISD libraries as well as in Keller ISD and Canutillo ISD. She continued to scrap with progressives in comments online over the issue.
The Texas House Democratic Caucus did not respond to a request for comment.
HB 900 will now make its way to the Calendars Committee where it’ll await placement on a floor calendar, after which a vote will occur.
If the committee vote is any indication, the minority party’s votes will not be uniform.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify the bill number of the READER Act.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.