Missouri state House Republicans vote to defund public libraries

Republicans are retaliating against a librarians’ organization for suing the state over a law on book banning

Published April 12, 2023 1:31PM (EDT)

Books on the shelf in a library (Getty Images / ilbusca)
Books on the shelf in a library (Getty Images / ilbusca)

This article originally appeared on Truthout.

Republican lawmakers in the Missouri state House of Representatives followed through on threats they previously made to librarians, passing a state budget this week that eliminates all funding to public libraries throughout the "Show Me State."

Around $4.5 million in funds that would have been included in the budget for libraries were instead dropped down to zero, after cuts proposed by Rep. Cody Smith (R), chair of the state House Budget Committee, were included.

The stripping of funds for public libraries was done in retaliation over a lawsuit brought forward by the Missouri Library Association (MLA), which, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is suing the state over a draconian law that bans hundreds of titles in public school district libraries, including books that discuss LGBTQ issues, racial justice and the history of the Holocaust. Any school official, including librarians, who fails to comply with the law could be fined up to $2,000 and/or could be imprisoned for up to a year.

The budget has yet to be passed in the state Senate. Republicans in that legislative body have said they would restore the cuts, but that promise was made before the budget was passed in the House.

"There is no way that money is not going back into the budget," state Sen. Lincoln Hough (R) said last week.

The passage of the budget, sans library funding, could mean there will be a rare intraparty impasse between GOP lawmakers in the two houses.

Smith has claimed that the reduction of funds for public municipal libraries was needed to ensure the MLA couldn't use state funds to help "subsidize" its lawsuit — however, the ACLU is not actually charging the MLA any fees but providing legal aid pro bono, thus rendering the GOP lawmaker's concerns moot.

Responding to the budget being passed in the state House of Representatives, the MLA noted that the complete wiping out of funding to libraries was also unconstitutional, as the state's highest governing document says the state has a policy "to accept the obligation" of funding its institutions.

"Library funding is guaranteed in the MO constitution. This tactic, meant to bully MLA into submission, instead directly harms public libraries who rely on those funds, especially the smaller, more rural libraries," the MLA said in a statement.

Other commentators spoke out against the defunding of libraries in the state.

"This newest budget proposal needs to be opposed — by all readers, writers, community advocates, and yes, parents," wrote James Tager, research director for PEN America, in an op-ed published this week in The Missouri Independent. "But further, the book banning amendment within SB 775 needs to be repealed. It hurts Missouri's librarians. It hurts their communities. And it hurts their kids.

Others were more direct in their criticism of the state GOP's actions against libraries.

"Good morning, to everyone… except Missouri House Republicans. This bullshit has to stop!!!" ordinarily mild-mannered actor LeVar Burton, who hosted the popular PBS children's program "Reading Rainbow" for decades, tweeted in response to the budget bill.

By Chris Walker

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