Illinois is on the verge of becoming the first state in the nation to punish public institutions that ban books. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has said he supports a House bill that would withhold state funding from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries that remove books from their shelves. The bill passed in the Illinois Senate on Wednesday, and Pritzker is expected to sign the legislation.
The impetus for the legislation came from newly elected Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office oversees library systems and their funding. Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he couldn’t fathom that book banning is happening in 2023. “It is so blatant, and so dangerous. I was blown away,” he told POLITICO.
“All these efforts to curb reading materials have absolutely nothing to do with books. They are about restricting the freedom of ideas that certain individuals disagree with and that certain individuals think others should have access to,” Giannoulias said.
The final version of House Bill 2789 passed the state Senate 39 to 19 after it was approved in March by the House on a 66 to 39 vote. Illinois doles out some $62 million to libraries around the state each year, according to Giannoulias’ office.
Republican lawmakers who oppose the legislation have argued that their goal is to make sure books distributed in public schools and libraries are age appropriate. Republican state Sen. Jason Plummer on Wednesday called the legislation an example of Democrats “pushing an ideology on Illinois citizens, regardless of where they live or what they believe.” He said it was “offensive to take away public funds from people whose taxes paid for these grants.”
The bill says that in order for public libraries, including in public schools and universities, to remain eligible for grant funding, they must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or adopt their own written statement prohibiting the banning of books. A library that doesn’t certify either of the statements, or takes the next step of banning a book, will not be eligible for grant funding from the secretary of state, according to the secretary’s office.
President Joe Biden has blamed “MAGA extremists” for attempts to ban books and made ending book bans a central part of his reelection campaign. The American Library Association has said it’s seen a record 1,200 challenges to books over the past year, nearly double from the previous year.
If the legislation is signed into law, Illinois would become the first state in the nation to punish public institutions that ban books. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.