Librarians don’t want it. The public doesn’t want it. Even the Iowa Leagues of Cities is undecided on the matter, but Iowa Republicans want to change the law to diminish the authority of local library boards and make the institutions more susceptible to political whims.
These points and more were raised on Thursday during an Iowa House subcommittee on HSB 678. The bill would give city councils more direct control over public libraries, including their finances and the hiring and firing of library directors.
The legislation advanced 2-1 in a party-line vote, with both Republicans for it and the lone Democrat against it.
“I was born at night, but not last night and I realize why this is here,” said Brian Schreurs of Norwalk. “This is a result to what happened in Pella where the voters decided to keep books in the library and some people didn’t like it. This is another attempt to circumvent freedom.”
Several of the speakers at the meeting pointed out the obvious Pella connection to this legislation.
Last fall, Pella voters narrowly defeated a referendum effort to give the city council control of the library. The referendum effort was led by some residents who were upset that the library board refused to remove “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and other LGBTQ books from shelves.
The fight in Pella, one of Iowa’s most conservative communities, went on for several years before it was decided at the polls.
“At the end of that long discussion—lots of public participation—we decided not to adopt a resolution that would have done what this bill does,” said Dave Timmer of Pella. “A lot of us feel that the goalposts are being moved now and I urge you to oppose this bill.”
Mary Timmer, also of Pella and Dave’s wife, also pleaded with lawmakers to put this issue to bed.
“We spent a year trying to save our library from some false attacks and people were called groomers and all kinds of things just to have a public library accessible to all,” she said, noting the measure passed with 51% of the votes and crossed party lines.
“Please don’t overturn this by an end run around and legislate a way of stopping the vote,” she continued.
A similar bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate last week and a Monday subcommittee on the legislation was canceled. Instead, the senator behind the bill met with library officials to talk over the proposal and how it would affect libraries.
Rep. Jerome Amos Jr. (D-Waterloo) was the only member of the House subcommittee who voted against advancing HSB 678.
“Listening to all these folks, all these people, all these individuals who we actually represent, I have not heard a single individual in favor of moving this out of subcommittee,” he said.
Amos said he felt like the legislation was moving fast—the bill was introduced in the House late Wednesday afternoon. Amos also noted that as a former Waterloo City Council member, he knows how much work people in those positions are already doing, so he can’t understand the desire to add more duties to an already stacked plate.
“There’s no reason in the world why we as legislators should be moving this to a city council,” Amos said.
Rep. Carter Nordman (R-Panora), who chaired the subcommittee and voted to advance it, said they have to move fast on this bill so that it can be heard by the full House Local Government committee next week.
“I hear from all of you and from city council members and from city administrators about issues with the libraries outside of any books or content in the library,” Nordam said, holding up a stack of white papers.
Nordam didn’t mention any specific communities with concerns or read from any of the pages he held up. No one at the hearing spoke in favor of the bill. No city or municipal lobbying agencies have registered in favor of it. There also do not appear to be any comments from city officials in favor of the bill on the legislative website.
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