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Senate President: Parents, others, ‘overdid it’ on book challenges; wants to reign in objections

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Senate President: Parents, others, ‘overdid it’ on book challenges; wants to reign in objections

Feb 28, 2024 | 3:05 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
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Senate President: Parents, others, ‘overdid it’ on book challenges; wants to reign in objections
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(Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0/The Daily Montanan).

Florida lawmakers are looking to curtail the number of book challenges in Florida’s public schools. While a final decision hasn’t been made, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said Wednesday she supported the efforts to reign in the objections.

The Senate has yet to vote on a House proposal, HB 1285, that proposes a $100 “processing fee” on subsequent challenges filed by people who have already unsuccessfully challenged five materials available in a school district where they don’t have children enrolled. The House approved that bill on Feb. 15, but senators haven’t taken it up with a little over a week left in this year’s session.

If the school district approves the challenge, the person who raises the objection would get the $100 back.

“When we originally passed the legislation, the thought in mind was that there are valid issues, valid concerns of parents and community members about certain books that were found in school libraries,” Passidomo told reporters on Wednesday. “I had parents come to me with books that they had taken out of the school library and not only was I shocked, but I was embarrassed by some of the content.

“But like anything, all of a sudden, it became a thing to do where everybody in the community was running to the school library and looking at books, and they overdid it. So, I think we need to reign it in a little bit, and I support those efforts.”

The move that could reduce the number of book bans comes amid sweeping book challenges that have disrupted Florida school districts. Between July 2022 and June 2023, PEN America, the international writers’ group, reported that Florida accounted for 1,406 or 40% of book removals in the country.

Additionally, Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared supportive of the move to penalize frivolous book challenges during a press conference on Feb. 15. At the same time, he called the notion that Florida was banning books a hoax.

“If you have a kid in school, OK. But if you’re somebody who doesn’t have a kid in school and you’re going to object to 100 books, no, I don’t think that that’s appropriate,” he said in that press conference.

Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy of Port St. Lucie also included the $100 book challenge fee in her version of one of the Senate education deregulation bills aimed at removing requirements from traditional public schools that private and charter schools don’t have to abide by.

The House is scheduled to take up that bill on Thursday, but Trabulsy filed an amendment Monday substituting the contents of the Senate bill with her own proposal. However, she left out any mention of the fee for objecting to materials in classrooms and school libraries.

She declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations about the bill.