Following Missouri’s lead, the Tennessee state legislature has introduced HB2721, it’s own version of The Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, a clone of a bill introduced earlier this year in the Missouri state legislature that has alarmed librarians and anti-censorship advocates.
The controversial bills propose to give elected "parental review boards" the power to decide which “age-appropriate" materials can be accessible to minors within a public library, with librarians who don’t comply with the board’s decisions subject to prison time.
“Tennessee legislators have copied-and-pasted a bill that would formalize state-level censorship,” said James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America in a statement this week, pointing out that the Tennessee bill is “essentially identical to Missouri House Bill 2044,” also known as the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act. Under the Tennessee version, librarians who refuse to comply with the law would be subject to a Class A misdemeanor charge (on par with a domestic assault) and public libraries who refuse to comply could also have their state funding cut.
“Public librarians around the country are often put in the uncomfortable position of standing up for free speech in their own institutions, and refusing to take down a book simply become some members of the community object,” Tager said. “Apparently the sponsors of this Act feel that this should be treated as criminal conduct when it’s actually librarians simply doing their jobs.”
Missouri House Bill 2044, was introduced in January by representative Ben Baker, who later conceded that the bill was motivated by the popularity of Drag Queen Story times in libraries and bookstores around the country. “The main thing is I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not going be exposed to something that is objectionable material,” Baker told local KOAM News last month.
“ALA vigorously opposes HB2721 and other bills like it that advance censorship under the guise of parental control.” reads a statement released this week by American Library Association. “The belief that a small group of parents know what is best for every family in their community denies the very real fact that each community is made up of families and individuals with diverse beliefs, identities and values. ALA supports the right of families and individuals to choose materials from a diverse spectrum of ideas and beliefs. Public libraries and their professional staff members already have in place the tools and procedures that will assist parents in selecting materials that fit their family’s information needs, while not censoring materials or infringing upon the rights of other families or patrons to choose and access the resources and programs they want and need.”
Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the state library association says it is monitoring the bill, noting that it remains in the early stages of the legislative process.
"TLA leadership is continuously monitoring the proposal, which in its current state contains language the organization finds equatable to censorship of library collections, which we oppose," a recent statement on the TLA site reads.