Legislation to remove sexually explicit material from public school libraries received initial approval in the Texas House on Wednesday, marking the first Republican priority to pass the chamber since the session began.
House Bill 900 by State Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Frisco)—known as the “Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources (READER) Act”—cleared a major legislative hurdle with a bipartisan 95-53 vote following modest opposition from a few Democrat lawmakers.
The debate on the House floor was much less dramatic than the hours-long committee hearing for the bill nearly a month ago, which saw more than 200 witnesses registering an opinion on the legislation and was marked by impassioned and, at times, profane testimony.
The legislation requires library material vendors to rate content as “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant” if warranted; bars school libraries from holding, acquiring, or purchasing “sexually explicit” material; and requires them to obtain a parent’s written consent before allowing a child to check out a book marked as “sexually relevant.”
Patterson said the legislation is needed to provide “uniform standards” and “stop the sexualization of our children,” and he dismissed arguments that it amounts to a “book ban” or is an effort to “lock up librarians” or “silence minority voices.”
“This bill does one thing and one thing only: restricts explicit books from unaccompanied minors and Texas public schools,” Patterson explained.
A priority of Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) and the Republican Party of Texas, the legislation defines the term “sexually explicit” using legal standards for content deemed “patently offensive” or “pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable.” These standards are prescribed in the Texas Penal Code, the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of “obscene content,” and the 1982 Supreme Court case Pico v. Board of Education, which affirmed a school board’s authority to remove objectionable books from school libraries.
“Sexually relevant,” on the other hand, has the same meaning as “sexually explicit” except that it is not “patently offensive.”
Democrats James Talarico (Austin), Erin Zwiener (Driftwood), and Gina Hinojosa (Austin) spoke agains the bill, while Shawn Thierry (D–Houston) gave an impassioned defense of the measure, saying those opposing the measure would be embarrassed to read some of the books in question aloud on the House floor.
Patterson credited the legislation to the efforts of “the brave moms and teachers who are standing up all across the state to fight against these sexually explicit materials in their kids’ public schools.”
With less than 40 days left in the legislative session, HB 900 will be voted on once more in the House before it goes to the Senate.