Democrats propose state law to help limit book bans

By: - November 10, 2023 5:25 am

Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin have introduced legislation to restrict state and local government book bans and have proposed requiring people who file complaints about books in schools or libraries must sign statements that they've read the book and detailing the reasons for their complaints. (Getty Images)

Democrats in the state Legislature are proposing new standards they say could help quell a tide of bans and restrictions on books in schools across the country.

“Last year, the American Library Association reported 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources, the highest number of demands since the organization began collecting data 20 years ago, and almost double the statistic from 2021,” Reps. Jimmy Anderson (D-Fitchburg) and Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) and and Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) wrote in a memo they began circulating Thursday seeking cosponsors.

According to PEN America, the memo notes, there have been over 3,300 book bans across 33 states this school year. Over 1,500 titles have been removed or restricted from K-12 classrooms and libraries. “School boards have reported that many of these challenges are levied by external actors with no connection to the local community,” the memo continues. “Complaints often lump together dozens of titles without any evidence that the complainant actually read each book in its entirety, understands their nuances or literary contributions, or thought through a legitimate justification for their removal — beyond the vague contention that certain materials are ‘inappropriate’ for students.”

Efforts to ban and restrict books largely dealing with topics around LGBTQ communities, gender identity, indigenous and racial discrimination have cropped up throughout Wisconsin. Two years ago, Republican lawmakers began utilizing a list of books compiled by parent groups to determine whether schools and libraries in their legislative districts provided certain books to students, emails obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner showed. Proposed legislation that would expose librarians and teachers to felony charges for exposing children to obscene or inappropriate material followed last year. Nearly identical versions of that list appeared in southeastern Wisconsin schools as well. More recently, the Kenosha Unified School District removed four books after outcry from parents.

The cosponsorship memo proposes a bill to limit sweeping book bans. Under the draft bill, anyone complaining to a school district or public library about books must reside in the school district or community served by the library, submit written statements showing they’ve read the book entirely and detailing the reasons for their complaint, and include signatures of at least 5% of the residents in the school district or the community served by the library. The memo has a deadline of Nov. 21 for legislators to sign on.

Democrats this week also introduced legislation to bar book bans by state or local government agencies and denying state or local funds to libraries, schools and colleges or universities that “prohibit, ban or unreasonably restrict access” to books or other media because of “partisan or doctrinal disapproval” or because of the origin or background of the creators.

AB-657 was introduced by Emerson and its companion, SB-615, by Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison). The bills include language stating the provisions don’t apply to “any age-based restriction on obscene or pornographic material” and don’t apply to libraries in state prisons, jails, juvenile correction and detention facilities, secure residential care centers for children or youth, or libraries in institutions operated by the state Department of Health Services.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.