Indiana Senate advances ban on ‘harmful’ library materials

February 1, 2022 GMT

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers pushed forward a Republican-backed bill on Tuesday that aims to restrict students from accessing “harmful materials” at libraries.

Republican Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville said his legislation would remove educational purposes as a reason that public schools and libraries could claim legal protection for sharing “harmful material” with minors. That includes books and other materials deemed to be obscene, pornographic or violent.

The measure cleared the Senate on Tuesday in a 34-15 vote, largely along party lines. Five Republican senators joined Democrats in voting against the proposal, which now heads to the House.

Tomes maintained that the bill does not change current law, which already outlines “strict criteria” that has to be met for a book to be considered illegal. Instead, he said the bill ensures that “repugnant” and “absolutely disgusting” materials would not be accessible to K-12 students.

ADVERTISEMENT

“These are not classic novels, renaissance pictures, excerpts from he Bible,” Tomes said. “This is not about guns. It’s not about communism. It’s about raw, nasty, filthy pornographic literature. Books.”

Senate Democrats pushed back, arguing that the proposal would lead to a ban on books of educational value that are only deemed “harmful” or “offensive” by some.

Democrat Sen. J.D. Ford of Indianapolis noted that libraries and schools already have a process in place for contesting and removing concerning materials. He added that the current law does not present a clear enough definition of material harmful to minors, which could lead to “due process and enforceability concerns.”

“Parents have a different perspective about what is harmful to minors, and that is the crux of this bill. The definition of what someone may deem harmful, and someone else may deem harmful ... it creates vagueness,” he said. “While some of the content in question may be distasteful, or not what the parent would select for the child, the content is not what a reasonable person would determine harmful to minors.”

Senate Republicans pushed ahead with the bill, even after they effectively defeated a proposal with similar language last month.

The separate Senate bill, authored by Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin of Noblesville, would have prohibited K-12 teachers from including or promoting certain “divisive concepts” in classrooms. It also included a provision aimed at stopping the “dissemination of material harmful to minors.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Baldwin drew widespread condemnation when he said teachers must be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies, although he later walked back his comments.

The bills are part of a series of proposals by conservative lawmakers in the current session, which they say would increase transparency of K-12 school curricula and give parents more say on what is taught in schools.

A House version of Baldwin’s bill was approved by lawmakers last week and is now under consideration in the Senate. The legislation would require classroom materials to be posted online and vetted by parent review committees, and restrict teaching about racism and politics.

It would also limit what teachers can say in class on sensitive subjects, prohibiting them from using materials that “present any form of racial or sex-stereotyping or blame on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.”

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said he didn’t know whether the second half of the legislative session would give the contentious provisions a new chance in the Senate.

“The issues of parental engagement and transparency are important and, I think, valuable,” Bray said. “If we can take a fresh look at this, we’ve got some people that are interested in trying to look at it. They’re going to do that. I don’t know where we’ll go with it.”

Legislators in the House also advanced a bill on Thursday that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity.

The proposal, now being considered in the Senate, would prohibit students who were born male but identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for women or girls. But it wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender men from playing on men’s sports teams.

___

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.