Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law HB900, which requires suppliers of books to school libraries, librarians, and teachers to rate the books, both on future sales and retroactively. As the Texas Tribune wrote, all vendors, including bookstores, would have to assign ratings to books “based on the presence of depictions or references to sex. A book would get a ‘sexually relevant’ rating if the material describes or portrays sexual activity and is part of the required school curriculum. A book would get a ‘sexually explicit’ rating if the material describing or portraying sexual behavior is ‘patently offensive’ and not part of required curriculum. State law defines ‘patently offensive’ as materials that are an affront to ‘current community standards of decency.’ ”

Several organizations have responded. The ABA’s American Booksellers for Free Expression said in part, that it was disappointed that the Governor “ignored the outpouring of opposition from booksellers and Texans across the state and signed HB900 into law. HB900 is an onerous law that will chill speech, and it could threaten the livelihoods of independent bookstores. The governor described HB900 as ’empowering parents,’ an ironic statement at best. The government dictating what other parents’ children can and cannot read is hardly empowering to parents or students.

“From the day this bill was introduced, ABFE and independent bookstores in Texas have fought against HB900. Now that HB900 has been signed into law, ABFE will pursue every option available to ensure independent bookstores do not suffer its consequences.”

ABFE added that the law will make librarians and vendors “inevitably err on the side of caution by not selling or carrying a book title for fear it might run afoul of the law. Whether or not a book or materials are ‘sexually relevant’ or ‘sexually explicit’ is inherently prejudiced and could result in different ratings from different vendors.

“Moreover, simply from a pragmatic standpoint, abiding by these strict guidelines would almost be impossible–resulting in access to far fewer books than in the past. Most vendors (other than publishers) are not content creators and rely on professional reviews and information provided by publishers to describe and categorize the books they sell–they can’t read every book and they do not have the expertise to rate books. And it will be impossible for vendors to rate books they have sold to districts that are still in active use by September 1…