The legislature is gearing up for another session in February 2024, and addressing sexually explicit library books for minors will almost certainly be an issue lawmakers take up.
For months, residents in counties and municipalities across the state have raised concerns over their library's content. Concerns include books containing sexually explicit material or books that promote liberal ideologies around race, sex and gender.
Many opposed to the books have pointed to the American Library Association (ALA) and its state chapter, the Alabama Library Association (ALLA), as primary culprits in endorsing, promoting and supporting sexually explicit books and material that supports progressive gender ideology.
The issue made its way to the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS), which distributes funding and resources to local libraries across the state. There are growing voices amongst lawmakers and citizens calling APLS and local libraries to disaffiliate Alabama from the ALA, as several state library boards have also done.
Gov. Kay Ivey has exchanged several public letters with APLS Director Nancy Pack, asking for changes in APLS's policies and questioning its relationship with the ALA.
At APLS board meetings, several prominent lawmakers have attended or sent proxies to address the book issue, most saying they would take legislative action if APLS doesn't make substantive changes to its policies.
The legislative tactics bandied about to address the issue have varied. Some have suggested that the legislature could cut funding to APLS should it not change course, especially in its relationship with ALA. Both House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) have expressed eagerness to take up the library issue in the upcoming legislative session.
"The 2024 regular session of the Alabama Legislature will convene on February 6, 2024, and it is my hope as Speaker of the House that between now and then your agency will work to implement commonsense procedure to recommending the books and other material being made available in children's sections of our public libraries that reflects the wishes of Alabama parents," Ledbetter said in a letter to the APLS board. "If the issues at hand remain unresolved when lawmakers gather, I am confident they will use both their statutory and budgetary authority to help the APLS do its job and accomplish its mission."
"The controversies surrounding the APLS and local libraries remain on the radar of our Republican House members, many of whom have expressed great concern," Stadthagen said. "We stand ready, if necessary, to take action through legislation, our budgetary authority, or both, but you hold in your hands the opportunity to negate the need."
Another possibility for the legislature is adjusting the library exemption in Alabama's obscenity laws.
Under current law, "It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or offer or agree to distribute any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary (monetary) value. Material not otherwise obscene may be obscene under this section if the distribution of the material, the offer to do so, or the possession with the intent to do so is a commercial exploitation of erotica solely for the sake of prurient appeal."
However, the law exempts "public libraries, or public school or college or university libraries, or their employees or agents acting on behalf of the legitimate educational purposes of such public libraries, or public school or college or university libraries."
State Rep. Rick Rehm (R-Dothan) recently told 1819 News removing or modifying the obscenity exemption is also on the table.
"If these issues are not corrected by February, I believe my colleagues and I in the legislature will work to have a legislative fix," Rehm said. The fix may include a complete disassociation from the ALA. It may also include removing the library's exemption from Alabama's obscenity law."
State Rep. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover), who has joined Rehm and others in addressing the library issue head-on since it began, told 1819 News she is waiting to see what solutions Ivey and APLS can formulate. However, she is more than willing to pursue any possible legislative solutions to the problem.
"I think that Governor Ivey and several legislators have made it clear," DuBose said. We are on the same page. We want better guidelines for our libraries to follow, and we want young children to be able to roam freely in the children's section and not risk picking up an inappropriate book."
"I think Dr. Pack would be very wise to seriously work on following Ivey's guidelines. And I would like that first before we have to do legislation."
DuBose said the obscenity exception is worth looking at since the purpose is to allow educational books, not books that have been brought before various library boards and city councils in recent months.
"There currently is an exception for libraries on an educational basis," DuBose continued. "And maybe that needs to be better clarified so that these obscene books – that clearly not educational, you can in no way consider them educational – are not a part of a library's curated package."
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