Indiana lawmakers revive bill at center of book-banning dispute for 2023 legislative session

A woman’s hand pulls a book from a library shelf.
Indiana lawmakers will consider legislation in 2023 that could allow librarians to be held criminally liable for distributing certain material. A similar billed failed to pass in 2022 and sparked controversy about whether it would lead to book bans in schools. (LAW Ho Ming / Getty Images)

A revived proposal from Indiana lawmakers that would allow librarians to be held criminally liable for distributing material deemed harmful to minors is among the first education bills filed for this year’s legislative session. 

Proponents of such a law have argued that they seek to target only material deemed pornographic or obscene under state statute. But opponents have expressed concern that the law could be used to intimidate librarians and remove books about sex education or LGBTQ relationships from schools and public libraries.  

A similar bill failed in the 2022 session after an outcry from K-12 librarians and educators, who said they could be unfairly criminalized under its provisions. 

This year’s legislation, Senate Bill 12, is authored by Republican Sen. James Tomes of Wadesville. Like last year’s bill, it specifies that only college and university librarians would be able to claim legal protections from the law for disseminating or displaying material deemed harmful.

The new bill signals that GOP lawmakers might ignore pleas from their Democratic colleagues and teachers unions to focus on matters like school funding rather than divisive social issues. Republican leaders have remained noncommittal about whether the General Assembly will reopen perhaps the most high-profile education debate from last year’s session: whether to ban certain topics related to race and identity from classroom discussions. 

Senate Bill 39, authored by Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford of Carmel, meanwhile, would extend discrimination protections at the state’s public schools, including charter schools, to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

Other legislation filed ahead of the Jan. 9 start of the session includes a perennial attempt to mandate a course on cursive in K-12 schools. 

Two other bills spotlight personal finance education. Senate Bill 68 would allow students to meet a graduation requirement to take Algebra II by taking a personal finance course instead. Senate Bill 35, meanwhile, would require all graduates to complete a personal finance responsibility course.

Indiana’s academic standards currently include financial literacy.

Senate Bill 142 would require the Indiana Department of Education to add a curriculum on internet safety for multiple grade levels. 

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Lawmakers will again consider whether to make undocumented immigrant students eligible for in-state tuition at Indiana colleges and universities, a proposal included in Senate Bill 135. If the bill passes, Indiana would join 17 other states who already extend in-state tuition benefits to those students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

House lawmakers can file bills until Jan. 12, and Senate lawmakers have until Jan. 13. 

The session begins on Monday. 

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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