OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A Republican-driven Senate bill limiting reading materials in school districts and public libraries has passed and is now on its way to the House floor.
Senator Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, is the author of Senate Bill 397.
He said the intention of the bill is to protect younger generations from reading inappropriate and “pornographic” material.
“This bill is not an attempt to ban books. It’s certain things you can’t get at school,” Sen. Warren said before the vote. “School boards, you ain’t exactly been hitting it out of the park lately. Maybe you could use a little help from some community involvement, some community empowerment.”
The bill would require schools and public libraries to inventory their current books both online and print.
Those books would then be categorized into so-called “ratings.”
Those ratings would include:
- Elementary (Pre-K through 5th grade)
- Junior High (6th-8th grade)
- Under 16
- Juniors and Seniors
Some of that reading material would also require a legal guardian’s permission before being checked out.
“I think this is a good step in the right direction on making sure inappropriate materials stay out of the hands of kids, give guardrails to educators so they don’t go outside those and lose their job and inability to teach in Oklahoma when we struggle everyday to get new teachers,” said Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman.
Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, called the bill an “overreach of state government.”
Sen. Thompson said these types of decisions should be left to the school board and parents.
The bill doesn’t just outline minors, though.
Anyone over the age of 18 would also have limitations when checking out a book at a public library.
“No print or nonprint material or media in a school district library, charter school library, or public library shall include content that the average person eighteen (18) or older applying contemporary community standards would find has a predominant tendency to appeal to prurient interest in sex,” SB 397 reads.
Those books deemed inappropriate by community standards will then be removed, according to SB 397.
American Civil Liberties Union Oklahoma Director of Policy and Advocacy, Cindy Nguyen told KFOR this is a clear violation of basic rights.
“All young people have a right to read and learn and inclusive and complete history of our country, free from censorship, from the government and discrimination,” said Nguyen. “These bills are effectively going to erase the history and lived experiences of marginalized communities and censor any type of discussion about it.”
Nguyen said ACLU Oklahoma will continue to monitor the outcome of SB 397 and how the House votes will determine their response.
If this bill were to pass the House and be signed into law by Governor Stitt, it would go into effect for schools July 1, 2023.
The bill wouldn’t go into effect for public libraries until July 1, 2024.