Texas House discuss bills aimed at keeping sexually explicit materials out of school libraries

State lawmakers discussed two bills that would restrict which books are allowed in school on April 19. But outside the House chamber, opponents of those bills made their voices heard, by openly reading banned books in the Rotunda.

"I am here to stand up for the freedom to read," said Emily Hersh, a librarian at Navarro Early College High School in Austin.

Parents, students and librarians staged a "read-in" Wednesday afternoon, reading books that have either been banned in certain districts or are being targeted for removal. They’re hoping this quiet protest will speak volumes against two Republican-led bills being discussed on the House floor.

HB 900 would remove books from school libraries that are deemed to contain "sexually explicit material." HB 1804 would require teachers to use books that "present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage", and not allow books that "encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society".

Members of the Texas Freedom Network, which led the read-in, are worried the bills’ vague language will result in unfair censorship of diverse perspectives.

"A lot of these books are around LGBTQ+ themes, the experiences of people of color," said Emerald Belmarez, organizing strategist with the Texas Freedom Network.

They’re also concerned the legislation could lead to perfectly harmless books getting the boot.

"There was a book about farts," said Belmarez. "And apparently to some people it promoted sexual and explicit content."

But supporters of the bills say it’s about protecting kids.

"They’re wicked books. They don’t need to be in there," said Llano County resident Barbara Light, speaking to FOX 7 last week.

Concerned residents in Llano County say libraries there are full of inappropriate, even sexually-provocative books, about subjects that should be discussed at home, not in school.

"They’ll have to put taboo all over the books and throw ‘em out the door and burn ‘em. That’s what I think about it," said Light.

Back in the Rotunda, protesters say they have no issue with reviewing what’s on library shelves, but say legislators should focus on threats like gun violence in schools—not banning books.

"In a state where we already have low literacy rates, limiting access to reading for our kids. That's just not what we're here for," said Minda Anderson of Austin.