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So-called 'book ban bill' advances in Florida Senate

Proponents of the legislation say it's not meant to censor any materials in schools.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A controversial bill that could end up banning some books from public schools has cleared another hurdle in the Florida Senate.

Critics call it homophobic and the legislative equivalent of censorship.

Proponents of Senate Bill 1300 say it’s designed to provide transparency and give parents a bigger say in what materials their children are exposed to, questioning the appropriateness of books and other materials being shown to students in public schools.

“My concern is that some of these materials are not age-appropriate,” said State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. “And forcing these conversations with students that are not age-appropriate.”

The bill would require a state-certified media professional at each school to review all student books and materials to make sure they are what the state considers age-appropriate. Elementary schools would then have to post that list online.

Principals would be required to collect and document any complaints, forwarding them to the state Department of Education.

“The purpose of the bill,” said State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, “is to create transparency in the process. It’s not to censor anything.”

The same bill originally would have required school boards give public speakers three minutes at public meetings even if they were criticizing individual board members. But that language was removed from the bill before it was moved forward.

The Senate Education Committee heard from parents who talked about books, lessons and videos some considered inappropriate.

“Some of the books that we’ve come across are deeply concerning,” Amanda Silvestri said.

“They were showing LGBQT cartoon videos to the kids,” said attorney Brenda Fam. “It was never disclosed to the parents.”

“We have porn. We have critical race. We have gender confusion,” said Karen Moran with a group called Florida Parents Know Best. “And other objection of materials in our schools.”

But other speakers and some state senators found those remarks themselves offensive.

“Because the reality is there are transgender kids,” said Susan Ehrchter, addressing the committee, “The reality is it’s the biology of sexual orientation, we’re not all heterosexuals.”

“If you want them insulated so much that they shouldn’t learn about the outside world, then you should homeschool them,” said State Sen. Tina Scott Polsky, D-Boca Raton. “Or you can send them to religious private school with voucher money.”

“I’m very concerned that this is the slippery slope of censorship,” said State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach. “We are starting down the path of censorship.”

While the bill advanced out of committee on a party-line vote, it’s by no means a done deal.

State senators on both sides of the aisle took issue with parts of the same bill that would cap school board member salaries at the same level as state lawmakers.

Others questioned why the bill would only apply to district-run schools but not public charter schools and private schools that accept tax-funded vouchers.