A proposal that would make it easier for parents to object to school library books they find offensive is advancing through the legislature.
The measure, Senate Bill 226, cleared the House Friday with a 97-to-61 vote that fell along party lines. It is the latest in a flurry of GOP proposals this session tailored to parents who feel at odds with decisions being made on public K-12 campuses across the state.
Republicans framed the measure as a way to ensure parents’ objections are considered. Democrats accused their colleagues of trying to appease far-right voters who want to silence critical voices on racism and other social justice issues.
Parents can already object to books they find offensive, but today those objections are reviewed by school committees that include librarians. The bill would hand the decision over to the school principal or a designee. That school official would have 10 days to let the parent know whether the material was deemed “harmful” and if access was restricted.
The parent could appeal the decision to the local school board, which would then have 30 days to act. The proposal also enshrines the parent’s right to publicly comment at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting.
“If parents do not want young children reading some very degrading-type material, then this is a parent engagement process and due process for those parents to be able to challenge these materials,” said Waycross Republican Rep. James Burchett, who sponsored the bill in the House.
The bill already cleared the Senate last year but will need to go back to that chamber for a final vote. But it’s likely to become law, with Gov. Brian Kemp saying earlier this year he wanted to ban obscene items from schools.
The proposal is opposed by the Georgia Library Media Association, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and others. House Democrats were unified in their opposition Friday.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, accused Georgia Republicans of being unwilling to “stop the crazy” on the right.
“There’s something that’s dangerous, that’s beneath the surface of this bill, that you’re facilitating, you’re giving a little bit of rope to, giving a little bit of air to, and you’re going to tell yourselves today that it’s harmless,” McLaurin said.
“But what happens two years from now, four years from now, when that little seed grows, and the disease festers? What happens is you get what’s happening outside of a Senate subcommittee for H.B. 1013.”
House Speaker David Ralston’s bipartisan mental health reform bill was overwhelmingly supported by the House and is backed by a broad range of groups. But conservative activists have loudly opposed the measure in the Senate, with some asserting unfounded claims such as the bill would protect pedophiles.
But Republicans pushed back on the criticism and bashed Democrats for not supporting a bill they argue would allow parents to have more meaningful input on what books their children can access at school.
“The legislation, once again, just lays out a process when a parent wants materials reconsidered as to whether they are age appropriate,” said Rep. Jan Jones, a Milton Republican and the second more powerful member of the House.
“It’ll be different decisions in the city of Atlanta than it might be in West Georgia, and it should be. And if you don’t like it, there’s the local public library and there’s your own books at home.”
Last month, Forsyth County removed eight books from its school library, including “All Boys Aren’t Blue” which is a young adult book about growing up Black and gay in New Jersey and Virginia.
Already this session, lawmakers have taken up similar education bills targeting parental input, including a so-called Parents Bill of Rights dealing with classroom materials, another measure barring parents from being removed from school board meetings and bans on “divisive concepts” being taught in the classroom.
Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.