Illinois House OKs measure to allow the state to deny grants to libraries that ban books

Tribune Content Agency

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House on Wednesday approved a measure that would allow the Illinois secretary of state’s office to deny grant funding to public and school libraries if they ban books or fail to devise policies against removing titles from their stacks.

The 69-39 party-line vote in the Democratic-led House reflected the partisan divide on the book-banning issue both in the state and nationally. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Illinois has not seen as many cases of book bans or attempted bans as states that lean more Republican, according to some research. But according to the secretary of state’s office, citing figures from the Chicago-based American Library Association, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois in 2022, up from 41 the year before.

Democrats say book bans often discriminate against the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, while Republicans have argued that some titles need to be out of the reach of children if they contain pornography or obscene imagery.

The bill’s main sponsor, state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, a Democrat from Naperville, brought up a controversy in her district last year when the high school board in Downers Grove unanimously voted to keep the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” in its libraries despite concerns from a group of parents and some members of the far-right Proud Boys group.

“Banning books is the sort of behavior that was once for good reason associated with the worst, most repressive and repugnant authoritarian regimes of the mid-20th century and before,” Stava-Murray said during floor debate. “The fact that this is even up for discussion in America in the 21st century is disgusting.”

House Republican Leader Tony McCombie said opponents of the measure don’t want to ban books but the concern with many parents is “where they’re placed” in libraries.

“For example, a book that may have graphic illustrations in a position where young children can see them is the concern,” said McCombie, a Republican from Savanna.

Stava-Murray responded that “each child develops at a different rate and has different needs.”

“What might be considered too mature for one child may be perfectly suited to another child,” she said. “For that reason, books are selected by library staff for the institutions’ collections. They should be made readily available and parents should exercise their rights and responsibilities as to their own children.”

GOP state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, of Jacksonville, emphasized that he’s not in favor of banning books but is concerned about his children having easy access to titles that are not appropriate for young kids.

“And you’re not confident that your parenting has instilled in your children their own ability to choose their own books?” Stava-Murray asked.

“I know for a fact that my parenting will allow my children to pick the right book,” he said.

“So then let the other children read the books too,” Stava-Murray replied.

Davidsmeyer said he was skeptical of the qualifications of libraries to pick and choose which books are “age-appropriate.”

“I’m not sure what library science teaches an individual to allow them to decide the mental maturity of a child,” he said. “I don’t think that a librarian is the end-all, be-all decision-maker in the state of Illinois on what books should be given to a child.”

Republican state Rep. Martin McLaughlin called the bill “a complete go-around and end-around on the local control and authority” of elected library boards.

“I think it’s (a) very blatant attempt to strong-arm our local communities and how they want to direct their libraries to operate and function,” said McLaughlin, of Barrington Hills. “I don’t understand why we have local elections anymore if a bill like this passes.”

Moments before the bill passed, Stava-Murray called the “local control” argument “disgusting,” saying it is “a dog whistle for allowing statewide or nationwide racist or bigoted policies to persist.”

That comment drew boos from the GOP side of the House chamber.

“You’re booing and only one side is booing. I wonder why?” she said, looking toward the Republican side. “Because maybe there’s some truth to it.”

The legislation has the backing of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. It was initiated by Democratic Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office provides grants to the state’s public libraries.

The bill would allow the secretary of state’s office to deny state grants to public libraries, including those in schools, that don’t adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which holds, among other things, that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

As an alternative, libraries could develop a written policy to “prohibit the practice of banning specific books or resources,” the bill states.

Giannoulias’ office has said it would not interfere with a library’s selection process for books to include in its collection. But the office said libraries could only lose the grant funding if they pull books from their shelves due to “partisanship” or “discrimination.” Guidelines for what that means are still being developed.