The Texas State House has advanced a bill that aims to ban sexually explicit materials that are included in public school libraries.
House Bill 900, introduced by Republican state Representative Jared Patterson, was passed after a second reading on Wednesday. The bill will have to pass a third reading in the House chamber Thursday before heading to the state Senate.
Under the bill, sexually explicit content is defined as any material “that describes or portrays sexual conduct” in a “patently offensive way” and is not a part of required curriculum. Schools must also receive written consent from parents if students are allowed access to sexually explicit materials, and vendors who sell such materials to school districts will be sanctioned by the Texas Education Agency.
Restricting books and other materials in school districts has become a growing movement within GOP-led state legislatures. But Texas’ HB 900 also garnered support from 11 out of 64 Democratic representatives on Wednesday, joining all present members of their Republican colleagues. Speaker of the House Dade Phalen did not vote on the bill, and GOP Representative Terri Leo-Wilson was absent from voting.
Democratic state Representative Shawn Thierry wrote in a statement shared to her Twitter account that she supported HB 900 after meeting with “many” of her constituents who said they “were appalled at the sexually graphic content in so many of the books in public schools.”
“They overwhelmingly oppose books in schools which encourage kids to watch porn as a ‘sugary treat’ … to meet strangers on the internet … to upload photos of themselves to strangers online,” Thierry said in the statement.
“Many people who initially opposed the bill, did so because they did not believe this content is in public schools,” she continued. “This actually underscores how incredulous and perverse the content really is.
“If necessary, and for those who have not taken the time to read these books, my office will print the content for review. After that, if any adult still agrees with it, I invite them to sign their names on the pages containing the sexually explicit content described above stating that they support it.”
Opponents of the bill argue that the language defining “patently offensive” material is too vague and could be used to discriminate against other topics in school libraries, such as LGBTQ+ and race issues.
Democratic state Representative Ron Reynolds argued on the House floor that book bans have a history of being implemented in a discriminatory manner, and proposed an amendment to the bill that would require the Texas Education Agency to track the books that are being banned, reported KTRK in Houston.
The proposed amendment was struck down by Patterson.
In a statement shared with Newsweek, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said that the bill will “set a dangerous precedent” in schools.
“Texas Republicans seem eager to send our state down a slippery slope where extremists can come together and ban huge catalogs of literature every two years— especially if those books don’t mesh with their ideas of what ‘traditional society’ should look like,” Hinojosa said.
“We’re all concerned about the tiny handful of books that are actually graphic and sexually explicit—but this is a problem that should be fixed with a scalpel, not an axe,” he continued. “This ban will undoubtedly expand to include books that don’t offend the vast majority of Americans—just the ultra-far right.”
Newsweek has reached out to the U.S. Department of Education via email for comment.