This story was first reported by Louisiana Illuminator and republished with permission.
A Louisiana legislative committee killed a controversial bill that would have allowed parish library board members to be dismissed without cause.
House Bill 25, sponsored by Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, sought to codify an opinion Attorney General Jeff Landry issued that posited members of parish library boards could be fired at the will of the governing authority that appointed them before their terms are up.
Parish library boards are composed of five to seven members, who are volunteers appointed to serve five-year terms that are typically staggered.
The opinion was requested by Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette, who is a co-author on Hollis’ bill. While the opinion is non-binding, it was used to justify the dismissal of a member of the Livingston Parish Library Board of Control in March.
The bill was involuntarily deferred Thursday in the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs on an 8-6 vote, with Republican Reps. Joe Stagni of Kenner, Mary DuBuisson of Slidell and Barbara Freiberg of Baton Rouge joining Democrats in killing the proposal. The motion to defer the bill was made by Stagni, who apologized to people at the meeting who had planned to comment on the bill.
Hollis said he brought the bill because several people in his St. Tammany Parish-based district expressed concern about decisions the parish library board has made.
St. Tammany Parish has been a venue for high-profile battles over library content amid a nationwide conservative push to remove books, primarily those with LGBTQ+ themes, from shelves.
The committee heard the bill last week, when Hollis opted to voluntarily defer it to work on amendments.
Garofalo presented the amendments to committee members during the hearing, which meant they had no time to review them in advance and that they were not yet available to the public.
Garofalo said the amendments were designed to address concerns of some of committee members from last week and to change the bill to simply codify Landry’s opinion.
The amendments received pushback from several members of the committee.
Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, expressed concern the amendments had not been made available for the committee to review and objected to their adoption.
While the amendments were approved, committee members were still unsure about the bill.
“What I feel like you’re sidestepping is that you want to give the governing authority the ability to remove at the whim of every decision they may make, and I’m uncomfortable with that,” Stagni said.
Stagni’s concerns were echoed by Rep. Candace Newell, D-New Orleans, who brought up the firing of the Livingston Parish board member, because the parish council member who appointed her was displeased with how she voted and that she did not return several of his calls.
“You’re not answering my phone call three times and saying what I want you to say three times should not be a reason for removing you,” Newell said. “If I put you on the library board, you’re not keeping it up, if you’re not keeping the books up to date, if you’re not keeping the openings available to the public, that’s cause.”
Rep. Kyle Green, D-Marrero, asked why Hollis did not make the bill applicable to only St. Tammany Parish, saying he would support local legislation.
Garofalo responded that he had heard similar complaints from other parishes, although he declined to name which ones. Those bringing concerns to him asked not to reveal their location, he said.
Although the bill was killed before the public comment period, committee Chair Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, sparked debate among members when he announced he would not tolerate comments that include sexual language or touch on book content or LGBTQ+ issues. Such comments were not relevant to the content of the bill, he said.
While Hollis’ bill does not touch on book content, his reasoning for bringing the bill centered on controversy over book content in his home parish.
Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Marrero, said Edmonds made those topics relevant by bringing them up and putting it into the record.
Edmonds also said he would not allow any commenters to show visuals. David Cougle, co-founder of the St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, a conservative group that has advocated for the removal of over 100 titles from the parish library, had come to the committee armed with a poster-sized print out of a page from a manga comic in the library.
Green also objected to Edmonds’ decision, arguing the public should be allowed to comment on any unintended consequences that could arise if the bill takes effect.
While the bill is dead for the session, three other bills related to the library controversy remain in play.