HB 900 Gets the Boot in a Scathing Opinion

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On Aug. 31, Texas Judge Alan D. Albright issued a temporary injunction against House Bill 900. Known as The READER Act by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), HB 900 is merely the latest in a series of attempts by the Legislature to ban books and control what types of books our students can access.

On Tuesday, the judge issued his written opinion fully blocking the implementation of the bill. Specifically, Albright found that the rating system called for in the bill, which would require vendors to label books as “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant” without properly defining the criteria to do so, places an undue and unsustainable burden on publishers/sellers seeking to supply library materials to the state and its many public school campuses. 

The opinion goes further and chastises the “unlimited authority” of the Texas Education Agency to preempt the work of the bookseller by reviewing and assigning its own rating, which would be final and unappealable.

“There is precious little if any language in the statute to ensure that any decision made by the TEA with respect to the rating of any book will be any more ‘accurate’ (whatever that means) allowing for the enormous possibility if not probability that it will be entirely arbitrary and capricious (at best). In other words, vendors must decide between either accepting the state administrative agency substituted speech as their own or being effectively blacklisted. There is no mechanism to appeal the TEA’s ratings with respect to any book. There is no dispute that the only way to regain the ability to sell library material to public schools is to submit a list of ratings compliant with the TEA’s ratings.”

The remainder of the 59-page document is equally unflattering. The sum total finds that the bill does in fact violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment because the bill effectively compels the speech of the bookseller to assign only ratings that would be acceptable to TEA, regardless of the “contextual analysis” of the books or the “community standards” the bill requires to be considered when assigning the ratings in the first place.

This is a significant (if temporary) victory for the coalition of advocates, including Texas AFT, that fought the bill all the way through the legislative process. The state has already announced it will appeal the ruling.

What is important for our members to know is that districts should not be making moves to rate books or remove books from libraries or classroom shelves under the banner of HB 900. Local book challenge processes will still exist, but we urge teachers to contact their local chapters or the state office for guidance if these activities persist on your campuses.

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