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Library books become part of Missouri budget debate


Libraries, their funding and local control figured heavily into a state House debate Tuesday morning, acting as a preview for what was to come later in the day when lawmakers take up the state budget.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Cody Smith (R-Jasper) suggested cutting library funding because of a lawsuit by a library group against a book law passed last session. That will be one of the topics debated during the six-hour timed debate on the state budget set to happen Tuesday.

Otter Bowman, president of the Missouri Library Association, said losing funding would matter most to rural libraries that depend the most on state funding.

Senate Bill 775 prohibits teachers from providing “explicit sexual materials” to students.

Under this law, any educator, in public or private K-12 Missouri schools, who “provides, assigns, supplies, distributes, loans, or coerces acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material,” will be charged with a Class-A misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $2,000 or a year in prison.

Bowman said librarians are mostly confused by the law and are unsure which books could get them in trouble.

"We were contacted by a school librarian that said, 'Hey. I've got this graphic novel, one square in the whole entire book seems like it might be offensive. So, if I put a piece of duct tape over that one square, would that be enough to keep me out of jail?'" Bowman said. "It's basically caused a lot of anxiety among people who work in libraries."

The ACLU, Missouri Library Association and Missouri Association of School Librarians filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit asks a Jackson County circuit court judge to either rule the law unconstitutional or define which books are inappropriate under the law.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft filed a rule that will go into effect on May 30. Under the rule, libraries cannot buy any books deemed "inappropriate" with state money.

The rule also says libraries must release a written policy on how they determine what is appropriate for different age groups, and how they're keeping inappropriate books out of children's hands. They must also allow parents to challenge books.

Bowman said it will be difficult for libraries to adjust.

"We count on the parents to be there with their kids and help them make choices, and we're obviously not going to stand in the way of what parents do or don't want their kids to have," Bowman said. "But, some families have two households and there could be two different sets of rules. It's just going to really be impractical for us to police that."

House Bill 986 started as a bill to require libraries to follow local zoning laws, but through amendments both in committee and on the floor Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers shifted the conversation to library funding and government control of reading materials.

During the perfection process Tuesday morning, representatives added a number of amendments that would give more power to library boards to decide how to spend money, when to set the fiscal year and what materials to buy.

"I think it's up to the library boards how they spend their money, I don't think we need to have the state regulating the library boards on how they do their work," Rep. Dean Van Schoiack (R-Savannah) said.

Schoiack's amendment, which allows libraries to decide what materials to buy with state funding and late fees, counteracts language added to the bill during a committee hearing. It removes language that restricted libraries to only buying materials cataloged by the Library of Congress.

Rep. David Tyson Smith (D-Columbia) said with the changes made on the floor, he thinks HB986 is a good bill. Smith said he is wary of the discussions going on in Missouri and across the state that seem to be making libraries a "target."

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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