'Obscene' book bill passes Kentucky House unchanged despite plea for more 'parents' rights'

Kentucky Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington
Kentucky Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington

FRANKFORT, Ky. ― A lengthy, passionate plea from one of the Kentucky House's staunchest "parents' rights" advocates went unheeded Wednesday night, as his colleagues refused to approve a flurry of last-minute floor amendments to an already controversial bill on "obscene" books.

Senate Bill 5, which creates a process for school districts to address parent complaints over "obscene" books and materials, passed unchanged out of the House on a nearly party-line 80-18 vote. With its final passage, the bill will go to Gov. Andy Beshear for his signature or veto.

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The late floor amendments to SB 5 were filed by Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, which attempted to add language banning public drag performances, giving parents near-total control over their child’s education and placing broad restrictions on what can be available in schools — all language taken from bills of his own and others' that have stalled late in the session.

Calloway gave passionate floor speeches Wednesday night that challenged his colleagues to take more decisive action to "protect children," though each of his four amendments failed to receive enough votes to pass or suspend the rules to be taken up for a vote.

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"Inside of our education system are activists that are working to sexualize our children and that are working to gain the minds of our children and pervert them," Calloway said. "That's what we're trying to address."


Calloway went on to suggest that forces within his own Republican Party were blocking key language of his bills and amendments from passing, saying that he was "risking everything" by pushing so hard on these issues, including his own political position and friendships.

"I want the public to understand that on this floor is the votes to make sure that we protect our parents' rights," Calloway said. "And for some reason, somewhere in this big House, it gets blocked time and time and time again."

Rep. Russel Webber, R-Shepherdsville, who was carrying SB 5 on the House, pushed back against Calloway's amendments with a passionate speech of his own, saying they risked the passage of one of the GOP supermajority's priority bills, with the final day of the session before the governor's veto period coming Thursday.

"If we start adding things to a bill late in the session, we run the risk of leaving the 2023 session with nothing —absolutely nothing — accomplished!" proclaimed Webber.


Calloway's attempts to suspend the rules and clear the way for his amendments did not come close to receiving a majority vote, picking up roughly a third of the chamber, all Republicans.

Following his last floor speech on the bill, Calloway received a standing ovation from roughly two dozen of the socially conservative Republican members who supported his effort — though the majority of the 80-member GOP caucus remained in their seats and did not join him on the amendment votes.

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Sponsored by Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, SB 5 originally focused on creating a process for school districts to handle parent complaints about "obscene" materials in their child's school.


Under the bill, parents would first take their concerns to the school principal, who would determine if the book or program should be allowed to stay or be pulled. If the parent doesn't agree with the principal's decision, they can appeal to the local school board, who would have final say.

Most school districts in Kentucky already have systems in place to handle parent grievances, including Kentucky's largest district in Louisville. Over the summer, Jefferson County Public Schools made headlines for refusing to pull "Gender Queer" — an illustrated memoir on the author's gender identity - from a handful of high school libraries after a parent challenged the book.

Legislation creating similar processes or going further to address "obscene" materials — which often are books featuring themes of LGBTQ or racial issues - are popping up across the country,

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a Louisville Democrat and active teacher, said the legislation "is fueling the flames of the culture wars."


After the vote, Calloway told reporters he did not know who the person or people were who were "blocking" his and others' parents' rights bills, but said they were "somewhere in this building."

"We have some great (Republican) leadership on both sides," Calloway said. "I put them in a very tough position tonight that I would never put anybody in if it wasn't something that I felt was worthy."

Reach Olivia Krauth at okrauth@courierjournal.com and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Despite late amendment push, original 'obscene' book bill passes House