Jim Beam column: Library issue purely political

Published 9:46 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

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By Jim Beam

Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry and legislators chomping at the bit to join him have found a politically popular crusade. They want to ensure that children don’t check out sexually explicit materials in state libraries.

Most parents would agree that is a worthwhile goal, but do we want politicians to decide what is sexually explicit?

State Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, has already pre-filed a bill aimed at protecting children. Senate Bill 7 says, “Many libraries lack adequate policies addressing the access of minors to sexually explicit materials” and the Legislature wants to require libraries to adopt a policy to do that.

We hope children don’t get ahold of a copy of Cloud’s legislation. It goes into detail to explain what sexual conduct means. Sorry, but we can’t give you more information in a family newspaper about what that bill says about sexual conduct.

State Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, said she wants to file similar legislation ahead of the session that starts April 10. She compared the proposed new rules to being denied entry into R-rated movies when she was growing up.

What Landry and the lawmakers want to do is create a library card system that allows parents or guardians to choose whether a minor can check out sexually explicit materials.

Cloud said, “This is a step toward protecting our children. By allowing minors access to inappropriate content and materials, we are opening the door for them to be negatively affected by the content they find, whether purposefully or accidentally.”

Landry and the legislators assume librarians don’t know how to protect children from unacceptable content. Cloud said, “There are age restrictions and criteria, but this does not exist in our library system.”

Lynette Mejia, co-founder of Louisiana Citizens Against Censorship, told The Advocate that librarians undergo thousands of hours of training on how to select books and other materials. She said Landry is running for governor and, “This is just another political stunt.”

Landry is trying to scare parents into thinking there is something to fear in our public libraries, she said, when that isn’t true.

What parents are worried about is their children viewing explicit materials on the internet. Landry has twisted that into something that serves his political interests.

Jeremy Thompson, a member of the St. Tammany Library Alliance, in a text message response to the newspaper’s questions, said his parish already has a system to regulate access to books by minors.

‘“Apparently AG Landry couldn’t find a platform to build his campaign on so he’s going about the sad, manipulative business of building one for himself,” Thompson said.

The St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project praised Landry’s plans, and in a statement said, “Our Louisiana Legislature has declared that childhood addiction to pornography is a public health crisis, so we believe the AG’s efforts are an important step in doing more to protect those most precious to us.”

We didn’t know Louisiana’s children were addicted to pornography and that it is a public health hazard. State Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, and another candidate for governor, said reading is the bigger problem because nearly half of the state’s students cannot read proficiently.

“That is the issue we should be focused on,” Nelson said.

Nelson has tried to start fixing the reading problem. A bill he filed at the 2022 session passed the House 84-12 but came up two votes short in the Senate. He has introduced House Bill 12 for the 2023 session beginning April 10. Like his other bill, it would prohibit the promotion of third grade students with reading problems, with certain exceptions.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, is also a candidate for governor. She said she wants to review the library legislation but added that most parents do not want their kids or grandkids exposed to sexually explicit content.

The executive director of the ACLU said that the vast majority of titles and authors criticized by the attorney general are by and about people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.

Here is the bottom line in all of this Landry-created library controversy: No parent wants his or her children reading pornographic material. However, no one has produced any solid proof that librarians aren’t doing their dead-level best to protect them from that kind of material. Are there some rare exceptions? Probably, but it doesn’t appear to be a crisis.

Landry and these other gubernatorial candidates need to focus on this state’s major and real problems — education, infrastructure, taxes, population losses, childcare, juvenile justice, domestic violence, and crime, just to name a few.

Jim Beam can be reached at news@americanpress.com.