Recently, parents across Texas have expressed their concerns over the existence of inappropriate books available for checkout at public libraries in our state. This issue has become more prevalent in all corners of Texas, from large metropolitan areas to small rural counties. In particular, one county that I serve and represent, Llano County, has received nationwide attention for a court case involving controversial books in its county library branches.
Earlier this spring, a federal judge in Travis County issued a preliminary injunction requiring Llano County officials to re-instate books that had been removed due to concerns over explicit content. In response, the dedicated county officials listed as defendants in the case have wisely chosen to appeal the court’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. While this matter continues to play out our federal courts, it is important that we examine how the state legislature can work to limit the spread of inappropriate materials presented to Texas children.
This legislative session, I strongly believe that the legislature needs to act in order to fight back against the prevalence of explicit, vulgar materials that may be accessed by children in libraries across Texas. Following numerous conversations with my constituents and research of current applicable laws, I filed legislation that would limit the ability of government entities to introduce these harmful materials to children. House Bill 4056 seeks to accomplish this by eliminating the ability for those accused of displaying harmful material to children to use their association with a government or educational entity as an affirmative defense in court. I believe that an individual who works in education or for another governmental entity should not be able to use their position to justify the display of harmful materials such as explicit books to children.
Youth are highly impressionable, and although I support introducing children to educational materials that evoke and encourage critical thinking and strong decision-making skills, it is irresponsible to do so in a manner that leaves children vulnerable to explicit materials that are inappropriate for their age range. Texas children are our most valuable resource and our best bet for a successful future, and as lawmakers, it is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to do what we can to keep obscene materials out of their reach.
Following the federal court’s ruling, the Llano County Commissioners Court met recently to discuss the county’s options regarding the explicit books controversy in its county library branches. I applaud the efforts of Judge Cunningham and all Llano County Commissioners for their steadfast commitment to protecting parents’ rights in the face of a costly lawsuit brought against their county using California lawyers. In their words, “This has and will continue to be about Llano County affording parents the rights to protect their children and to decide what material their children may access.”
In addition to my efforts regarding House Bill 4056, I have continued to explore ways in which I might be able to work with my colleagues to improve laws that protect children from obscene materials. In one such attempt, I introduced an amendment to House Bill 900, a bill that seeks to protect children from explicit materials in school libraries, on the House Floor. My amendment sought to expand the scope of the legislation to include county libraries. However, due to a parliamentary tactic by a House Democrat, the attempt was struck down. While I’m encouraged by the final passage of House Bill 900 by the Texas House, it is unfortunate that some legislators were able to stand in the way of the attempted expansion of the aforementioned protections.
I remain committed to exploring ways in which work can be done to keep inappropriate library content away from Texas children. I greatly appreciate the input provided to us by my constituents regarding this issue, and will continue to work in seeking necessary safeguards against explicit content for the betterment of the children in our communities.