Missouri Republicans are eliminating all state funding for public libraries in retaliation for the ACLU suing the state over the state's recent book ban law in school libraries, and the results are going to be dozens of libraries shutting their doors for good.
Late Tuesday night, the Missouri House of Representatives voted for a state operating budget with a $0 line for public libraries. While the budget still needs to work its way through the Senate and the governor’s office, state funding for public libraries is very much on the chopping block in Missouri.
This comes after Republican House Budget Chairman Cody Smith proposed a $4.5 million cut to public libraries’ state aid last week in the initial House Budget Committee hearing, where Smith cited a lawsuit filed against Missouri by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU-MO) as the reason for the cut.
ACLU-MO filed the suit on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association (MLA) in an effort to overturn a state law passed in 2022 that bans sexually explicit material from schools. Since it was first enacted in August, librarians and other educators have faced misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail or a $2,000 fine for giving students access to books the state has deemed sexually explicit. The Missouri law defined explicit sexual material as images “showing human masturbation, deviate sexual intercourse,” “sexual intercourse, direct physical stimulation of genitals, sadomasochistic abuse,” or showing human genitals. The lawsuit claims that school districts have been pulling books from their shelves.
“The house budget committee’s choice to retaliate against two private, volunteer-led organizations by punishing the patrons of Missouri’s public libraries is abhorrent,” Tom Bastian, deputy director for communications for ACLU-MO said in a statement to Motherboard.
Like in all ACLU cases, the organization is not charging the two Missouri library groups for services. Both library organizations are also run by volunteers – every state has an equivalent of these two organizations that serve public and school libraries. In other words, a politician either lied or didn’t have his facts straight, and now 160 library districts risk losing state aid in June.
“State Aid helps libraries provide relevant collections, literacy based programming, and technology resources to their communities,” Otter Bowman, president of the MLA told Motherboard in a statement. “Our rural libraries rely the most heavily on this funding to serve their communities, and they will be crippled by this drastic budget cut.”
This is just cruelty and retaliation, but that's who Republicans are. The purpose of government is to punish your political enemies for daring to oppose you at all. And the fact that if this becomes law and the state's public library budget is zeroed out meaning libraries in the reddest, rural counties in Missouri will close, well, that's the point.
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