Republicans in the Georgia House on Tuesday signaled they will push forward with a proposal that would allow parents to protest books and other materials that they believe are harmful to minors, with school officials required to decide within seven days whether to remove the material.
A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 226, which stalled in the House in the final days of the session last year.
Republican State Sen. Jason Anavitarte of Dallas introduced the measure, saying it was sparked by complaints from parents.
“I think what we were trying to do is basically create a process that the public would understand in terms of where to go if there was a concern with material,” Anavitarte said.
A group of conservative activists have particularly focused on materials that may be available in online databases, with state Rep. Martin Momtahan, a Dallas Republican, citing examples Tuesday of what he called “disgusting, raunchy filth.”
Now, state rules require each school district to adopt a media policy and each school board to review instructional materials, including soliciting public comment. But there’s no guaranteed way for a parent to force a school district to decide if a particular item is obscene.
Mike Griffin, who lobbies for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, called the law a “step in the right direction.”
“We do have responsibility to protect our children, the most vulnerable that we have out there,” Griffin said.
But others said they feared the measure would lead to harmful censorship. Terrence Wilson of the Intercultural Development Research Association said the measure could be used to target materials that portray lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in a positive light.
“We are opposed to this bill, because of the threat that it poses to the access and use of curricula that affirms the identities of all students, particularly students that identify as part of the LGBTQ community,” Wilson told the committee.
Supporters say local school districts should be able to decide their own standards.
“This bill leaves the determination of what obscenity is to the community,” said Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chairman James Burchett, a Waycross Republican. “What is obscene in Ware County, Georgia is going to be different than what is obscene in Fulton County, Georgia.”
Both Wilson and Democratic state Rep. William Boddie of East Point expressed concern that a school principal might not be the right person to decide what’s inappropriate or obscene. Anavitarte notes the bill allows a principal to designate someone else to decide.
House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Milton has said she and other Republicans are working on a bill that would require school districts to do more to make sure students can’t access inappropriate material on the internet at school. That measure has yet to be introduced.
The bill dovetails with a larger Republican push to give parents more visibility into and control over public school instructional materials. Senate Republicans on Tuesday said they would join House Republicans in having a bill that seeks to ban the teaching of critical race theory, a term stretched from its original meaning as examining how societal structures perpetuate racial disparities to a broader indictment of diversity initiatives and teaching about race.
State Superintendent Richard Woods and the state Board of Education have proposed a rule that gives parents the right to view all the instructional materials used in teaching their children. Gov. Brian Kemp has signaled that a similar provision could be part of a parents’ bill of rights that he has promised this year.
The measure is being considered in a committee that normally writes criminal law because as originally proposed last year, it would have made it a crime for school librarians to provide access to obscene materials. The current bill does not penalize school employees.