Indiana House committee abandons contentious library materials amendment — for now

Language increasing parents’ ability to get books removed from libraries could return on the House floor, however.

By: - April 10, 2023 11:51 am

Indiana’s House Education Committee meets at the Statehouse on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

A hotly-debated amendment that sought to ban materials deemed “harmful to minors” in school and public libraries stalled Monday, following hours of opposition testimony the week prior.

The House Education Committee did not vote on the amendment on Monday. Instead, lawmakers voted 12-0 to send the watered down bill, which deals with graduation rates, to the full House.

The amendment could still resurface on the House floor, however.

The proposal under consideration was similar to the controversial Senate Bill 12. But rather than hearing that measure, House lawmakers considered inserting similar provisions into Senate Bill 380.

Committee chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, did not comment directly when asked by the Indiana Capital Chronicle about the decision not to vote on the amendment, but he said such language will “likely” be up for debate again in the full chamber.

“The issue is not done yet,” he said.

The proposed amendment, authored by Rep. Becky Cash, R-Zionsville, intended to create a new process for parents to request the removal of books alleged to be obscene or harmful to minors from school and public libraries. 

Language in the amendment would have additionally removed “educational purposes” as a reason that public schools and libraries could claim legal protection for sharing “harmful material” with underage students. 

Last week, school officials and librarians pushed back against the proposal for more than four hours, arguing that such a policy would open them up to criminal charges and create a “chilling effect” on book selections.

Democrats echoed those concerns, saying the amendment could lead to the removal of anything one parent deems to be unsuitable over the objection of other parents.

Proponents of the amendment pointed to Hoosier parents who say their local school boards have rejected their challenges of certain materials — leaving books some deem to be “obscene” and “objectionable” accessible to kids in school libraries.

Republican lawmakers agreed, saying the book removal process “isn’t working” at the local level and now warrants statewide legislative action to require “transparency between schools, libraries and communities.”

What remains in the bill?

The House committee largely stripped language in Senate Bill 380 last week. 

Only two pieces remain in the latest draft of the bill:

  1. A requirement for Hoosier school corporations to publish online the graduation rate for  each high school in the district.
  2. Language to clarify that schools can adopt student dress codes or policies concerning “distractive behavior.”

Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, who authored the bill, said language in the bill addressing “disruptive behavior” in the classroom ensures that schools can ban kids from “dressing inappropriately.” 

He previously referred to students dressing like a “furry,” although he did not provide examples of any Indiana schools where such behavior has been documented or considered disruptive. Critics argue that claims about schools making accommodations for students who identify as “furries” are transphobic and amount to misinformation.

Graduation waiver provisions deleted from the bill are moving in a separate measure, House Bill 1635

GOP lawmakers maintain they don’t intend to completely eliminate graduation waivers. They’re given to students who don’t complete postsecondary-readiness competency requirements by the end of their senior year.

But the House bill does set a 9% cap on the number of students who can graduate from a school with a waiver during the 2023-2024 school year. After that, the cap drops to 6% in the following academic year, and down to 3% for each school year after June 30, 2025.


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.