Report: “Kentucky Legislature Overrides Beshear’s Veto, Giving Local Political Leaders Control of Public Libraries”
UPDATED April 21, 2022: Statement From PEN America: New Bill Politicizing Libraries in Kentucky is a Massive Alarm Bell for the Freedom to Read
And in a sudden about-face, the House voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 167, giving local political leaders control of public libraries.
A day earlier, an override attempt failed in the House. The vote Thursday completed the override of the veto.
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Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed Senate Bill 167 on April 8, saying it would politicize libraries by letting elected county leaders appoint whomever they want to library boards and block major library spending. In most of Kentucky’s 120 counties, libraries have been largely self-governed and self-financed tax districts, created by citizen petition.
Beshear’s veto was sustained Wednesday night when the House fell three votes shy of the 51 necessary to override it. (The Senate easily overrode the veto hours earlier.)
But on Thursday, in an unusual maneuver, the House moved to reconsider what it did.
Library directors have expressed concerns that political leadership will mean partisan-skewed boards with ideological interests in the material on library shelves and the programs offered to patrons. Libraries should be nonpartisan and open to people of all viewpoints, the library directors said.
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Supporters of the measure say library boards, which have taxing authority, should have more oversight from elected officials. But many local librarians worry the bill will bring politics into libraries’ finances, hiring practices and even which books end up on the shelves.
Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat from Bowling Green, spoke against the bill, saying it’s going to change how local libraries are run.
“This one is going to be hard to put back in the bottle and you’re going to have to answer to your constituents who say ‘why did you mess up my library,’” Minter said.
Eastern Kentucky Senator Philip Wheeler sponsored the measure, which grants county judge-executives the ability to appoint public library board members with no oversight from the state. Currently, potential library trustees are vetted by the state librarian before the county judge makes the appointment from an approved list.
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About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.