Is Georgia about to establish a book banning committee? Senate panel passes bill

Legislation that would create a state council to set standards for books that could be banned from public school libraries as obscene cleared a Georgia Senate committee late Wednesday.

“This bill is about making sure our public school libraries are not places for kids to be exposed to sexually explicit materials,” Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee and the bill’s chief sponsor, said before the vote.

Senate Bill 394 would create the Georgia Council of Library Materials Standards, whose members would be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, House minority leader, and Senate minority leader. The council would create a grading system that would be used to decide which books fit the legal definition of “harmful to minors” or “sexually explicit” and therefore should be banned.

Schools that fail to comply with the standards the council sets forth would not be subject to criminal charges. However, they would be subject to complaints from parents that potentially could lead to lawsuits.

Spokesman for several faith-based organizations spoke out in support of the bill Wednesday.

Taylor Hawkins of FrontLine Policy Council said the measure simply requires keeping the same material out of the hands of children in the public schools that is already prohibited on the streets of Georgia.

“It’s a common-sense bill,” he said.

But several civil rights advocates and educators complained he bill could be used to target books about homosexuality.

Tracey Nance, Georgia’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year, said about 10% of the state’s population identifies as LGBTQ.

“This bill is not what Georgians want and, more importantly, it’s not who Georgians are,” she said.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, who voted against the legislation, said gay Americans enjoy full legal rights now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage.

“There are going to be children in schools whose parents are gay,” she said. “(This bill) is an attempt to indoctrinate values.”

But Republicans on the committee said the legislation is not an effort to marginalize any groups of Georgians.

“We’re not singling out any specific act of sexuality,” said Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. “It’s not attempting to indoctrinate students.”

The legislation now moves to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote.