Earlier this month, Missouri State Rep. Ben Baker, R-106th district) (R), filed what has become one of the more controversial pieces of legislation filed to date for the 2020 legislative session.
Earlier this month, Missouri State Rep. Ben Baker, R-106th district) (R), filed what has become one of the more controversial pieces of legislation filed to date for the 2020 legislative session. Filed under the name of the Parental Oversight of Libraries bill. The bill has attracted widespread attention, much of which is far from favorable. Baker of Neosho recently sat down for an interview with the Neosho Daily News, part of the Gannett USA Today news network that includes the Lake Sun.
Q: Why did you decide to introduce this bill?
BAKER: I decided to introduce the bill after reading about what is taking place in some of the libraries in our state and other states as well. We have a situation where events and materials are being promoted by our libraries that are inappropriate for minors and disregarding dissent. Our local library is great and is exactly what a library should be with great people at the helm that care about protecting children. However, there is an agenda by certain groups to introduce children to inappropriate adult themes using the vehicle of the tax funded library to do so and I think we need to address it. My intention is to protect our children from objectionable materials and events that are being allowed in some libraries.
Q: Was there any particular materials that prompted it?
BAKER:Events like the “Drag Queen Story Hour” in Houston, Tx. Last March. Where a pedophile convicted of assaulting an eight-year-old boy was allowed to perform before the children in the library. There are many other stories that will turn your stomach that are happening across the country and some in our own state. This bill is both reactionary and preventative.
Q: Does the extreme reactions to the bill surprise you?
BAKER: Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. Although it’s a fresh reminder of the hypocritical outrage by the left. They claim the bill is government control and in reality, it is local control. They claim it is a breach of the first amendment, yet they hate it when you voice your opinion that disagrees with them even to the point of death threats to me and my family. I had to turn in the threats to Capitol police to investigate on Friday. They claim I want to ban books and censor literature. There is no provision for that in the bill. All content would still be available for a parent or guardian to provide to their children. They claim tolerance and love yet spew hate and vitriol and violence instead of discussing differences of opinions. The media literally writes stories that are opposite of what I am trying to accomplish. They claim I want to throw librarians in jail for allowing our children to access age inappropriate materials. The truth is there is a penalty of the law for not following the wishes of the community, but it is much less than the current law regarding disseminating objectionable materials to a minor. Currently it’s a felony but the penalty under the bill is a misdemeanor. They claim the experts and professionals know better than our parents as to what is appropriate for our children to have access to, and I disagree. They claim that I want to force my religion and morals upon those that frequent the library and in reality, I want everyone to have access to all views of faith and opposing philosophical views. Once again, I have had hundreds if not thousands of messages, emails, calls and almost all of them have been from outside my district and most from outside the state. I even had a death threat from outside the country! This particular threat voiced that he would be hunting me and would shoot me in the face. On the other hand, most of the response I have received from my constituents have been support and thanks for tackling this issue. Most of the media and negative response is from those who are too lazy to read the actual bill but instead form their opinions based on headlines that are not objective.
Q: Did the "Drag Queen story hours" that have taken place in some Missouri librarians factor into your decision to introduce this bill?
Q:Do you feel that - despite all the media attention - that most parents, especially those in your district support and approve of the bill?
BAKER: Those that I have given me the opportunity to explain what the bill actually does usually will then agree that it is a good bill. Of course there is always room for discussion of tweaking the language to have a better bill. I will be doing a Facebook poll soon to see what the numbers are in support of the idea but if I were to guess I would say that overwhelmingly the people in my district would support the idea of what I am trying to accomplish.
About the Bill (Austin Huguelet)
The Missouri legislature is back in session, and so are the culture wars.
A Republican lawmaker from Neosho sparked the latest fight with a bill he says grew out of concerns with "drag queen story hours" at public libraries.
Rep. Ben Baker’s plan would require libraries to create review boards to regulate those kinds of events and anything else in the library considered “age-inappropriate sexual material.”
Libraries that refuse would be cut off from state money — and individual librarians could be jailed.
The five-member review boards would hold public hearings on questioned material and then decide whether to make it unavailable to some or all minors.
Baker said he’s trying to give parents who disagree with library programming a way to change things.
“I’m trying figure out a way for parents to have recourse if something's happened and actually the library board is saying 'Hey, we're OK with this' or even promoting it, which has happened,” Baker said.
Local library districts have not hosted any drag queen story hours, but librariesin St. Louis,Kansas City andSt. Josephhave.
Shira Berkowitz, a spokeswoman for the LGBTQ advocacy group PROMO, said the events give young people an important opportunity to see LGBTQ individuals in a positive light in a public place.
“We think that visibility is really, really important,” she said. “Especially in a state where LGBTQ people can still be denied housing or fired because of who they are.”
Libraries aren't happy with Baker's idea.
In a statement, Missouri Library Association President Cynthia Dudenhoffer said her organization “will always stand against censorship and for the freedom to read, and therefore opposes Missouri House Bill 2044.”
She added that libraries already have ways to help people protect their children without “infringing upon the rights of other patrons or restricting materials."
“Missouri Library Association will always oppose legislation that infringes on these rights.”
The blowback isn’t just coming from Missouri. James Tager of PEN America, a New York nonprofit dedicated to defending free expression, called the idea “a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri” in a statement to the Washington Post.
Baker said he’s not trying to ban books and pointed out parents could still check out any book and provide it to their kids if they think it’s appropriate.
“What's happening now is that publishers and authors are determining what's age-appropriate,” he said. “I think parents should weigh in on that content.”
He added that he would also be OK with private groups holding drag queen story hours in libraries' meeting rooms.
Baker seemed more sympathetic to people who don’t like his penalties for library employees who defy board orders, though.
The bill says they would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine or a year in county jail.
“I wanted to send a strong message that we need to protect our kids and we need to do something about this, but that's all negotiable,” Baker said. “The language is not finished and it hasn't been to committee yet.”
Baker, a minister and former dean of Ozark Bible Institute, is no stranger to taking stands for his beliefs.
Last year, he attracted scrutiny forpushing a bill encouraging public schools to offer elective courses on the Bible and requiring the state’s K-12 education agency to write up curriculum for the classes.
The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.
Baker’s library review board bill isHouse Bill 2044.