Feb 21, 2024 - Politics

Oregon lawmakers consider bill to prevent book bans

Illustration of a stack of books with barbed wire wrapped around them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A bill aimed at preventing book bans is expected to receive a vote in the Oregon Senate, the latest effort to push back against conservatives' attempts to protest titles involving LGBTQ+ themes in classrooms and school libraries.

Why it matters: The proposal in Oregon's Legislature follows a nationwide wave of attempts from the political right to limit what kids can read — often targeting works written by or about LGBTQ+ people and people of color.

By the numbers: Across the country, attempts to ban books from schools reached a record high in 2022, and at least 93 individual titles were challenged in Oregon just last year, according to State Library of Oregon data.

The big picture: California and Illinois have already passed laws to try to limit book bans, according to the American Library Association's tracker of "right-to-read" legislation.

  • More than a dozen other states, including Washington, are considering similar measures.

Details: Under the Oregon proposal, school administrators would be prevented from banning textbooks and library books on the basis that they are written by or include stories of people protected by the state's anti-discrimination law.

  • This includes people of color, LGBTQ+ identities and those with disabilities.
  • SB 1583, introduced by Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), received more public testimony than any other proposal lawmakers are considering in this year's short legislative session.

What they're saying: More than 1,000 wrote in or testified to support the bill, largely due to advocacy by librarians, civil rights organizations, teacher groups and the Oregon Education Association.

  • "Students have a First Amendment right to read and learn about the history and viewpoints of all communities — including their own identities — inside and outside of the classroom," Jessica Maravilla, policy director at ACLU of Oregon, told Axios via email.

The other side: Many who opposed the measure wrote in with concerns about sexually explicit materials, arguing schools should not be where children learn about gender identities.

  • Others, including some who testified at a public hearing last week, called the proposal unnecessary and said it would drive parents to remove their children from the public education system.

What's next: With a Democratic majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives — and overall Democratic support — the measure is expected to pass the Senate. It would then head to the House for consideration.


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