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Louisiana senators revive at-will dismissal of library board members

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Louisiana senators revive at-will dismissal of library board members

May 28, 2024 | 7:50 pm ET
By Piper Hutchinson
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Louisiana senators revive at-will dismissal of library board members
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During the 2022–23 school year, book bans occurred in 153 districts across 33 states, according to a PEN America report. (Getty Images)

The Louisiana Senate gave final passage Tuesday to a bill that would allow parish library systems to hire directors who are not certified librarians — after senators added in language a House committee rejected that would allow library board members to be dismissed without cause. 

House Bill 974 by Rep. Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, passed the Senate on a 27-9 vote. No senators objected to the adoption of the controversial language after Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, briefly explained the amendments as clarifying language and codifying an attorney general’s opinion, which he did not explain.

The opinion was issued by then-Attorney General Jeff Landry in 2022, when he argued parish governments are free to remove library board members before their terms end — something not spelled out in state law. Attorney general’s opinions are just that, and do not have the force of law. 

Before it was amended Tuesday, Carlson’s bill was designed to remove the requirement that directors of parish library systems receive state certification, which requires librarians to pass an exam and hold a master’s degree in library science. Libraries currently have the ability to hire non-certified librarians as directors after obtaining a waiver from the State Board of Library Examiners, but they can only hire them for a four-year contract that can then be renewed. This time limitation is maintained in Carlson’s bill.

House Bill 974 is a substitute bill for House Bill 168, which stalled in the House Municipal. Parochial and Cultural Affairs committee. The new version of the bill was referred to the House Education Committee, where it easily passed. 

The new language is similar to that in House Bill 946 by Rep. Jay Gallé, R-Mandeville, which is a refiling of House Bill 25, from 2023 by former Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington. Both bills were killed in the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs with bipartisan opposition. 

Gallé’s bill was a response to some parish governing authorities who have sought to remove library board members who have been wary join conservative culture wars. 

Library board members removed in Gallé’s St. Tammany Parish have sued the parish and David Cougle, the councilman who initiated their removal and worked with Hollis last year on the rejected bill. 

Conservative activists in the parish, led by the far-right St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, have attempted to ban more than 150 books they deem sexually explicit. Most of the titles challenged have LGBTQ+ themes. The library board repeatedly refused to limit access to the books, rejecting arguments that they are sexually explicit. Their refusal put them crosswise with the new, more conservative parish council that took office earlier this year. 

St. Tammany Parish and Carlson’s Lafayette Parish have been venues for high-profile clashes over book content. 

Carlson’s bill stemmed from the search for the next Lafayette Public Library director. Its parish library board illegally fired the previous director, Danny Gillane, in executive session after a years-long contentious relationship with some of its members. The board later rescinded the illegal termination, allowing Gillane to resign. In an unusual move, the board later hired Gillane as the interim director while they searched for his permanent replacement. 

The Lafayette library board’s search committee wants to remove the requirement that the director have an American Library Association-certified degree because its library is no longer affiliated with the organization, The Acadiana Advocate reported.

Carlson disputed rumors that he sponsored the bill because he wants the library board to hire somebody he has in mind who does not hold a degree in library science. The bill would actually put the state closer in alignment with the American Library Association, which lays out recommended qualifications for library directors on its website, he said. The recommended educational requirements range from a bachelor’s degree to multiple master’s degrees.

Because it was amended by the Senate, Carlson’s bill must go back to the House for another vote. Carlson did not seem concerned the House would reject the amendments, even though a House committee had rejected the language.