UPDATE FRIDAY 11:11 a.m.
Pryor was able to officially change her vote on House Bill 1447.
UPDATE 2:47 p.m.
In the Senate, the final step before the bill faces Gov. Eric Holcomb, Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said, “Even though this bill has gotten slightly better, it is still a slippery slope.”
Ford said he believed the bill merely appeases parents who believe pornography is found all throughout Indiana’s schools.
Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said, “This is just going to add another level of complexity to school boards.”
The conference committee report passed 39-10. Holcomb now has seven days to sign the bill into law, allow it become law without his signature or veto it.
UPDATE 2:37 p.m. Thursday
The bill has passed the Senate 39-10.
UPDATE 2:31 p.m. Thursday
The Indiana Senate is now discussing 1447. Watch the livestream here: https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2023/senate
The House Democratic Caucus communications team indicated that it would not comment on the two Democrats who voted in favor of the HB 1447, Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, and Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis. Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, voted yes by mistake.
Rep. Vernon G. Smith, D-Gary, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, offered the following statement:
“While I don’t believe in or condone obscenity, I’ve been a tireless advocate against censorship throughout my tenure as a lawmaker and an educator. Reading books about different ways of life or different cultures can open children up to a broader worldview. Over the years, I’ve never been shocked by the book burners in our society, but I’m disgusted that the Indiana General Assembly has moved to give legitimacy to those who are threatened by the wealth of knowledge that books can provide. Professional librarians and teachers are trained in industry standards as to what is appropriate for each age group of children—and I trust them with that charge.
“I take issue with the notion that one parent’s sensibilities should set the rules for an entire group of children. While I have no issue with an individual parent deciding what materials their child can read, they should not be allowed to dictate what other children can access. With the inclusion of this language, this bill does just that. Further, without a set definition of what constitutes as ‘obscene and harmful,’ I’m concerned that literature regarding African American history, women’s history and books featuring LGBT characters will be disproportionally targeted.
“As a long-time educator, I know that children and teenagers are capable of having complex and thoughtful conversations about the world around them. While we should always prioritize safety and age-appropriateness, censoring books and materials in schools is not an effective way to stop these conversations. Hiding certain topics from kids will only make them want to access them more, I suspect. Would we rather our children have their questions answered by their trained teacher or by the internet? We in the legislature are using valuable time to target books in libraries while children have access to far more obscene content on their phones and televisions at any time of day. Banning books won’t stop our children from being curious about the world, but it does remove safeguards against exposing our students to misinformation and information that isn’t age-appropriate.”
UPDATE 2:14 p.m. Thursday
TheStatehouseFile.com received word that Pryor did not mean to vote in favor of the bill. She filed a motion to correct her vote.
UPDATE 1:41 p.m. Thursday
In Thursday’s House discussion on “Don’t Say Gay” lookalike House Bill 1447 Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said, “This is yet another bill searching for a problem to solve. We all know in this room, there is no pornography in our schools. There’s not. There is some content that is not harmful to minors but disturbing to adults.”
Pierce said that by passing the conference committee report, lawmakers would essentially be telling school officials and librarians that they aren’t trusted by the state.
Rep. Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis, told the Chamber that the conference committee report really just silences LGBTQ+ voices, mentioning books that have been banned for featuring queer characters in another state.
“We don’t have to put our nose in everything, but it seems like that’s the direction we’re going,” she said.
Bill co-author Rep. Becky Cash, R-Zionsville, echoed earlier remarks in the House Rules Committee, saying legislators have heard enough testimony and outcries from parents in their districts to approve of the harmful material language.
Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the bill isn’t about marginalizing minorities.
“This is giving parents greater transparency with what’s in their libraries,” Lehman said.
In closing, Carbaugh said he knows books are an emotional issue but that he doesn’t believe the conference committee report will have a negative effect.
“We worked very hard to make this about the most egregious content,” Carbaugh ended.
The conference committee report passed by a vote of 70-27.
Democrats Rep. Cherish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, and Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, crossed party lines to vote in favor of the bill. Republicans Rep. Ann Vermillion, R-Marion, and Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, also bucked their party in voting against the bill.
The Senate is scheduled to open debate on the conference committee report after returning from recess Thursday afternoon. This story will be updated.
1:08 p.m. Thursday
After killing the bill in March, lawmakers in the House brought back its provisions Thursday on the likely last day of session, reviving Indiana’s controversial lookalike to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.
In Thursday’s House Rules and Legislative Procedures committee meeting—a preliminary step before the transformed legislation goes to final votes in both the House and the Senate—lawmakers called out conferees on the conference committee for House Bill 1447 for including non-germane (unrelated) language into a bill about school surveys.
Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, (above with back to camera) started off his presentation before the committee by explaining that the bill is still, even after its changes, a bill on school surveys. He said the conference committee report simply added language from Senate Bill 12, which did pass the Senate floor.
After its passage back in March, however, it was sent to the House Education Committee and didn’t make it to second reading, dying before it ever faced debate on the House floor.
The harmful material portion specifically establishes a procedure for parents to submit a request to remove materials in their child’s school library that they consider “obscene” or “harmful” to minors. Under the bill, the review of the parent’s request must be done in public, or for example, at a school board meeting.
Additionally, the language inserted into HB 1447 would require school libraries to create a catalog for parents that includes all materials available to students in the library.
Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, called the insertion of SB 12’s provisions sneaky. Carbaugh took exception to this, saying it was justifiable since Senate Bill 12 heard four hours of testimony during its journey through the legislature.
Dvorak told TheStatehouseFile.com that really, inserting the language doesn’t do anything but appease members of the House Republican caucus.
“I think the Republicans were afraid of a number of their own members having the opportunity to present amendments on the floor that would have made the bill truly crazy,” Dvorak said. “You know, there’s a substantial book burner caucus, I think, that would love to go crazy with this bill.”
As confirmed by Dvorak, parents are already able to bring their concerns to their child’s school officials.
Dvorak said he thought by including the language in a softened fashion, some House Republicans would get what they wanted without going to extremes.
“By sort of killing the bill in committee and coming up with a watered down version that they can insert in conference committee, then they don’t have to vote on amendments that would be politically problematic for them on the floor of the House,” Dvorak said.
More than appeasing certain lawmakers, Dvorak also said the insertion of the library-focused language could cause havoc at school board meetings—or, more than normal.
“It will further guarantee that there will be an endless stream of circuses in school board meetings going forward from here, so it just kicks the can down the road to make school board meetings more ridiculous,” he added.
As of 1:08 p.m., the House members had met and were hearing legislators’ thoughts on the bill.
This story will be updated.