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Virginia bill to regulate explicit books in school libraries killed

Bill DeSteph, John Cosgrove
Posted at 1:39 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 18:12:52-05

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — A Virginia Senate committee on Thursday killed legislation that would have required parental consent for students to check out sexually explicit books from school libraries.

Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, introduced the bill after parents across the state complained about library books that included graphic depictions of sex acts. It was one of several school-related issues that animated Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's victory in November.

The legislation initially required school systems to give parents a say in the review of materials before they were made available in school libraries. But DeSteph significantly reworked his bill ahead of Thursday's committee meeting. The revised proposal that was quashed would have simply required written permission from a parent before a student could check out a book with explicit content.

“We’re not trying to ban books. We’re trying not trying to burn books,” DeSteph said.

The bill's defeat could be an early indication of how Youngkin's proposed education reforms will fare in the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats.

Democrats have a 21-19 advantage in the full Senate, and a 9-6 advantage in the Education and Health Committee. One moderate Democrat on the committee, Lynwood Lewis, sided with Republicans. But another moderate Democrat who sometimes sides with the GOP on education matters, Chap Petersen, voted to kill the bill, and it lost on an 8-7 vote.

“I don’t think we should be involved in micromanaging school libraries.” Petersen said. “The problem is that you’re going to sweep up books that you don’t intend to sweep up.”

Petersen cited books like “The Kite Runner,” which has sexually explicit passages but is generally recognized as a classic work of literature.

Supporters of the legislation have pointed to books including “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe, which contains explicit illustrations of oral sex and masturbation. The book has been the focus of ire from multiple Republican governors. Virginia school districts have responded in varied ways to complaints about the book: Fairfax County, for example, temporarily pulled the book but restored it after conducting a review. Loudoun County Public Schools chose to pull the book.

Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, said Democrats are failing to heed the message voters sent last year.

“This last election showed us parents want to have more control over what's happening in schools,” he said.