What you should know
- The bill passed Tuesday by a vote of 29-21, with most Democrats opposing it.
- It now heads to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain future.
- Other state legislatures have adopted similar laws that opponents say specifically target LGBTQ+ and students of color.
After more than an hour of passionate debate Tuesday, the state’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill that would require Pennsylvania parents to give their children access to books considered sexually explicit.
The bill passed by a vote of 29-21, although most Democrats objected. It now heads to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain future. The bill passed the chamber, along with another regulating how teachers communicate with parents about curriculum, and faced opposition from the state’s largest teachers union.
The move is part of a larger statewide push to expand parental oversight of schools, which saw a surge in Florida last year. In the months since, other state legislatures have passed similar laws that opponents say specifically target LGBTQ+ and students of color.
In Pennsylvania, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Ryan Aument of Lancaster County, said the bill was a “very measured approach to addressing what is quickly becoming a controversial national issue.” He dismissed it as an attempt to Banning books, attacking the LGBTQ+ community, or censoring anyone.
One Democrat, Sen. Lisa Boscola of Northampton County, agreed, saying measures like these generate strong and vocal support on both sides of the issue.
“It’s tearing our communities apart,” she said. “That is why this General Assembly must take a leadership role. A statewide policy must be established that reconciles the radically different viewpoints of parents on both sides of this issue.”
Under the Pennsylvania measure, a similar version of which also passed last year, districts would identify and list books that contain sexual material – used in class or available in the library – and require parents to do so they sign an opt-in form to grant permission for their children to access some books.
It defines sexually explicit as depicting “acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, sexual sodomy, or physical contact with the clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if the person is a woman, with the Breast”.
The measure would also ban depictions of nudity in books for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Opponents disputed that the legislation ultimately did not censor votes and said books available in school would be reviewed by educators. They said parents already have the ability to control what their children read.
“Exploring human relationships, sex and love are among the most challenging and rewarding obstacles we face in life,” said Democratic Sen. Amanda Cappelletti of Montgomery County. “And we need the right training and materials to ensure people can explore these spaces safely and with the right knowledge to interact compassionately with the world around them.”
Another bill — which former Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a similar version of last year — addressing what he calls “transparency in the classroom” also passed the chamber by a 28-22 vote. This measure would require schools to post online the title or link for each textbook, syllabus and course summaries used, as well as the state academic standards for the course.
Democrats said schools already allow parents to review curriculum and the legislation would place an unnecessary burden on districts.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, said there was “nothing nefarious” about the bill’s intent.
Both measures were rejected by the Pennsylvania State Education Association.