The Indiana General Assembly is back in session. This time, mercifully, it’s a short session, but that hasn’t stopped the supermajority from continuing its efforts to turn Indiana into Mississippi.
A commentary by my friend Michael Leppert recently began by poking fun at bills filed by lawmakers who were apparently unable to employ legislative language that would actually accomplish what seemed to be their goals. He then moved on to bills introduced so far during this legislative session that “aren’t humorous, or merely humorless. They are hateful.”
One of those hateful bills is House Bill 1291, filed by Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne. That bill
attempts to erase the word “gender” from the Indiana Code and replace it with “biological sex.” He wants to legally cancel all transgender people in Indiana. If his bill were to pass, as filed, transgender people would no longer exist in the state. The bill creates definitions for other things too. Words like “woman,” “man,” “girl,” and “boy,” would now all mean what the legislature says they mean.
Leppert is entirely correct that the cited bill is hateful, and its effects would be assisted and strengthened by a seemingly unrelated effort to destroy–or at least severely hobble–the state’s public libraries.
As WFYI reports
Indiana Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would drastically change the way public libraries are funded and limit the types of events and activities they can host. The legislation could also potentially result in decreased funding for library services.
Senate Bill 32, authored by Sens. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) and Gary Byrne (R-Byrneville), would eliminate the ability for public libraries to impose property taxes. Instead, libraries would need to submit their budgets for approval to their local city or county government, in the same way that other municipal departments do.
The proposal comes months after legislation that makes it easier for community members to request removals of books from schools was signed into law. And libraries across the country have come under fire in recent years for hosting events like drag queen story hours, or for including books in their young adult collections that some people find objectionable.
Byrne, you will recall, was the lawmaker trying to stop a nonprofit program giving voters free rides to the polls (although Leppert points out that the language in his bill was so imprecise it would prevent transit companies from giving any person a free or reduced fare for any reason on election days.)
Senate Bill 32 would have a massively negative impact on libraries and their patrons. For one thing, it would allow counties to choose not to fund a public library at all. But the bill would do more than “merely” strike at library funding; it would prevent libraries from engaging in a wide variety of activities that currently benefit their communities.
The proposed legislation would also restrict libraries to a set of “core functions,” that are limited to public access to library materials, quiet areas for study, technical assistance, and acquisition of services for members of the public.
But public libraries typically offer a much wider array of services, including early literacy programs, science, technology, education and math programs, as well as dedicated makerspace labs, community programming like author talks, music performances and art exhibits.
Increasingly, libraries have also begun to offer social work services to help patrons gain access to government assistance, housing and mental health services.
In a statement, the Indiana Library Federation said the bill doesn’t take into account the ways modern public libraries operate as community hubs. As the Library Federation points out, “Not providing library patrons with these services would directly affect public libraries from meeting Indiana State Library compliance standards.”
The Federation also listed the numerous ways that public libraries are fiscally accountable. They are governed by boards whose members are appointed by local elected officials.
Library boards approve annual budgets, and they host public meetings and hearings on those budgets. Library budgets are publicly available, and they’re also submitted to the state’s Department of Local Government Finance and the State Board of Accounts for review. Rogers said libraries are also routinely audited by the state.
If passed, the bill would result in an increased administrator workload for municipal and county governments — which would have to take on the duties of budget oversight and approval for libraries, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
But if libraries are free to enlighten (or–horror of horrors–to host Drag Queen story hours) some citizens might realize–among other things– that trans people exist!
Your Indiana Republican legislators: working around the clock to defund and neuter any part of government that might educate Hoosier citizens.