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Indiana Senate wants to strip school libraries of legal protections on potentially explicit material

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Critics of a bill to remove library protections said Tuesday it would silence a host of authors who deal with topics pertaining to LGBTQ people and people of color.

Under current state law, if someone brings legal action against a school or library for keeping material in their collections that some find sexually explicit, the school or library can defend themselves on grounds they were keeping the material for educational purposes. The Senate voted mostly along party lines to remove the protection.

The legislation is part of a national effort by some conservative groups that target books predominantly dealing with LGBTQ themes, often in graphic novel form. Bill sponsor Sen. Jim Tomes, a Republican from Wadesville, has described such books as “raw pornography” that should not be made available to children.

“I’m just saying these little kids ought to be a little child as long as we can stretch it out,” he said. “I don’t think these little kids need to be exposed to this kind of stuff and take away their innocence as quickly as we can.”

Senate Democrats noted state law already prohibits material harmful to minors in schools and said Tomes’ bill could cause teachers to avoid teaching whole subjects. Sen. Andrea Hunley, a Democrat from Indianapolis, brought in a copy of Tom Feelings’ graphic book “The Middle Passage,” which consists of illustrations depicting the Atlantic slave trade without text accompaniment. Hunley, a former high school English teacher who used the book in her lessons, noted some of the illustrations depict nudity and strongly imply sexual assault.

“A parent may see this as truly obscene,” she said. “I worry that underneath what we have in this legislation a teacher could be prosecuted for that.”

The bill now heads to the House.

Tuesday marked the final day for Senate bills to pass out of that chamber to remain under consideration for the 2023 session.