An Alabama Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would allow local governments to remove library board members from their positions.
The Senate County and Municipal Government Committee approved the measure, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, on a 7-3 party line vote after Democrats on the committee said they were concerned it was tied to recent efforts to limit the availability of certain books in libraries.
Elliott said the bill was brought to him by local officials and he had personal concerns about library budgets.
"I had a couple of mayors that had approached me that had concerns about their library board and the autonomy of that library board mainly as it relates to budget issues and spending money," he said. "Now, of course, this handles some other issues, as well."
The bill would allow any governing body that appoints library board members to remove that member of the board. The bill would also require library board members to serve four-year terms; board members around the state generally serve in staggered terms.
Members of the committee considered later adding an amendment that the vote must be a higher standard, such as a super-majority vote.
The bill follows months of controversy over the availability of books in some Alabama libraries, particularly those with LGBTQ+ content. Right-wing groups have pressed for reduced autonomy for local libraries, often citing the presence of books that include transgender characters or themes as a reason.
The Alabama Public Library Service recently voted not to renew membership with the American Library Association, but local libraries can maintain their own memberships. The push has led to a counterattack from other groups that said the calls amount to censorship.
Elliott has also sponsored a bill that would fire the current board of trustees of the Alabama Department of Archives and History and replace them with gubernatorial and legislative appointees. Elliott was sharply critical of the department hosting a grant-funded talk about LGBTQ+ history in the state in June 2023 in connection with Pride Month. The senator filed a bill in July's special session that would have cut $5 million out of the department's budget, but it failed to move.
During the meeting Wednesday, Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, read a quote from Elliott printed in right-leaning outlet Yellowhammer News after a radio interview where he said that, "You find that these types of boards are infiltrated by folks that are not representative of the values of the people of the state of Alabama."
Elliott, in conversation with Hatcher, said he meant values of a local given community.
Hatcher said he was concerned the bill could also lead to book-banning and said his experience as an educator makes him want to expose people to all viewpoints, not just those of the majority in a given community.
"In any educating situation that is worth its salt, it should be that we have individuals who have the ability to engage in some critical thinking," he said.
The committee amended the bill to prevent the alteration of library boards formed through a joint city-county venture.
The committee also approved two more Elliott-sponsored bills, one that would allow nonpublic schools to contract with local departments for school resource officers and one that would allow the continuation of retirement benefits under the Retirement Services of Alabama for elected officials. Elected superintendents were removed from the bill with an amendment.
All three bills move to the Senate for further consideration.
The committee also hosted a public hearing on a bill by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, related to excise taxes. The committee did not vote on the bill.
Read more at AlabamaReflector.com.