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Missouri senators add library funding back into state budget; remove anti-DEI wording


Senators added $4.5 million for public library funding back into the state budget during a committee meeting Wednesday. At that same meeting, Senators removed amendments blocking state spending on diversity initiatives.

These funds were taken out by House Budget Chair Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage), who said libraries were wasting money with a lawsuit. The lawsuit challenges a law passed last year that prohibits librarians or educators from giving sexually explicit books to students, it makes it a Class A misdemeanor if a teacher is found guilty.

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.

The lawsuit is being litigated by the ACLU pro-bono, meaning it's at no cost to the libraries.

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

Missouri Library Association President and Mid-Missouri librarian Otter Bowman said she is relieved to see the funding restored.

"MLA has high hopes that both the full Senate and the joint committee will approve this change so that our Missouri public libraries can continue to serve their communities without the added stress of budget shortfalls," Bowman said.

Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield) said the committee pretty much unanimously agreed that this funding is necessary.

"Libraries are more than books on shelves, they are access points for people in their communities who may not have high-speed internet in their home, they are career centers in some places where people are filling out job applications, and so, the removal of those funds was again problematic for this committee," Hough said.

Senators are also planning to discuss and possibly remove some strings the House attached: the language from the House that bans any state spending on diversity initiatives.

Rep. Doug Richey (R-Excelsior Springs) put an amendment on every department's budget preventing any state money from being spent on diversity initiatives. This sparked debate in the House of Representatives, where Democrats said he's adding policy to the budget and preventing education on topics such as slavery, Indian reservations and historic elections.

"If there wants to be a policy discussion on a piece of legislation like this, it should probably be in a policy bill not in an appropriations bill," Hough said.

Hough and the rest of the Senate Appropriations Committee appear to agree with House Democrats.

"We've had vendors reach out, we've had departments reach out, we've had contractors that the state works with that provide services for our communities, and they say if this language is attached, we're not sure that we can do business with the state and we can provide the services that we're providing," Hough said.

In a move that seemed to anticipate these kinds of bills, the University of Missouri removed diversity, equity and inclusion statements from its hiring process last month.

The budget still has to go through the entire Senate. If the Senate approves a version different than the one the House approved, the chambers will have to work on and vote on a compromise before it can go to the governor.

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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