House Bill (HB) 900 will ban children from accessing books labeled as “sexually explicit materials,” institute a recall of library books that are rated “sexually explicit material,” sanction vendors who supply those materials to schools, and require parents to provide consent for their child to access certain material.
HB 900, also known as the “READER Act,” had previously undergone long debates on the House floor and in committee hearings. Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) who authored the bill has said that he will “passionately fight to end the sexualization of children in public schools.”
During the debate on the Senate floor, the READER Act was laid out by the bill’s sponsor Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney).
Paxton defined the bill simply as a tool that the state can use to identify “sexually explicit material” so that the Legislature can protect children before the books make it to library shelves.
“In the same spirit that we stood together to protect children from sexually explicit material online, I implore you tonight, stand with me, stand with the parents of this state, and let’s do the same in our school libraries,” she said.
Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) took the lead in opposing the legislation.
Eckhardt asked clarifying questions about who would be held accountable when individual books are found and how the identification process works. Paxton answered multiple times that the “spirit” of the bill is to put the onus on the vendors and that “no doubt there will be some learning experiences” during the implementation, but the responsibility will not be on the school district.
Menendez was interested in whether or not the bill would apply to a teacher who visits an independent book dealer to purchase books for the library, and how such purchases would be monitored. Paxton again clarified that the bill is focused on vendors and that the “bottom line” is that vendors need to be aware of the law.
Multiple amendments were proposed, but none were adopted.
During one of the amendment propositions, Eckhardt commented that Texas “banned more books than any other state.” She said that she has seen data from nonprofit organization PEN America that shows that 1,600 of the unique titles removed from schools nationwide had LGBT characters or “characters of color.”
Recent reporting on the claims from PEN America shows that their figures on “banned books” is “sloppy and error-prone.” The Daily Signal was “unable to find 26% of the books that PEN America claimed were banned in school district card catalogues,” but said that this does not necessarily mean the books were “banned.”
The READER Act now awaits a signature from the governor once it reaches his desk.
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Cameron Abrams is a reporter for The Texan. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tabor College and a Master’s Degree from University of the Pacific, Cameron is finishing his doctoral studies where his research focuses on the postmodern philosophical influences in education. In his free time, you will find him listening to a podcast while training for an endurance running event.