Metro Weekly

People Who Challenge Books Could Be Fined $100 Per Incident

A provision in a Florida education bill seeks to charge for excessive challenges to books on school library shelves.

Illustration: Todd Franson

Under a newly proposed Florida bill, people who make objections to more than five books or instructional materials for schools where their children are not enrolled may be charged for each objection.

The provision is included in a broader “deregulation” bill governing school operations, imposing a fee on individuals who frequently challenge books to compensate for the time, money, and effort typically spent on reviewing book challenges. It would also deter individuals from filing false complaints based on their personal tastes.

Currently, under Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, individuals who live in any of the state’s 67 counties — regardless of whether they have children enrolled in school — may file an objection and demand the removal of books from schools or library shelves that they believe are “sexually explicit,” objectionable, or age-inappropriate for minors.

Under the deregulation bill, parents or residents who do not have a child enrolled in the school where they are filing a complaint would be allowed to make objections, at no financial cost to themselves, to no more than five books or instructional materials during a calendar year.

For every additional objection, such individuals would be assessed $100 per incident, reports the Bradenton Herald.

People who file more than five complaints per calendar year could see that money returned to them if their objection is upheld by school officials, meaning the literary work would have to be deemed to be inappropriate and removed from the classroom or school library.

The Senate recently passed three school deregulation bills that Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) has signified she wishes to pass to comply with a law that expanded school voucher programs and called for fewer uniform graduation requirements. None of those bills contained the fee provision included in the House bill. 

Challenges to school library books have become more common in recent years as school districts across the nation have sought to censor books they believe contain potentially controversial subject matter, plots, or characters, including LGBTQ-related content. This dovetails with a larger conservative backlash toward LGBTQ visibility in society more broadly. 

According to a House staff analysis, Florida had 1,218 objections to books and teaching materials filed during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, resulting in the removal of 386 titles.

Over half of the objections came from just two countywide school districts — Clay County and Escambia County.

More than one-third of all objections, or 489 overall, were filed in Clay County, resulting in the removal of 177 books, while Escambia County reported 215 objections, resulting in the removal of nine books.

The bill, with the fee provision intact, was unanimously adopted by the House Education & Employment Committee’s Choice & Innovation Subcommittee last month, and was subsequently approved by the full education committee. The bill must be read three separate times before it can receive a floor vote and is currently awaiting its second reading.

Proponents of greater censorship measures have opposed the fee.

Ryan Kennedy, a program manager with the right-wing Florida Citizens Alliance, argued that the group is simply trying to ensure all “obscene” materials are removed from schools.

He noted that Collier County schools upheld objections to over 300 books found in school libraries and expressed concern that the fee requirement would stop people from making objections.

“With that five-book challenge threshold, that would be a lot of people you would need to get to object to books,” Kennedy said, according to the Herald.

Sue Woltanski, chairwoman of the Monroe County School Board, supported the proposed fees, noting that it is harder for smaller school districts to process book objections rapidly, especially if there are many. 

“I’m sure you’ve seen the data that the majority of the books that are being challenged across the country come from 11 individuals, and two of them live here in Florida,” she said. “And it is a cumbersome burden to small school districts to have staff to review those books in time.”

Passidomo said last month that she had “not yet looked into” the fee provision but expressed confidence that the House and Senate would eventually iron out the differences between their two deregulation bills.

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