Fresno County approves ‘Parents Matter Act’

Board of supervisors votes 3-2 to limit children’s access to certain library books; Act sparks heated discussion on children’s reading choices, parental oversight

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors at one of their biweekly convenings.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors at one of their biweekly convenings.
Darren Fraser
Published November 9, 2023  • 
10:30 am

FRESNO COUNTY – The county board of supervisors (Board) passed Supervisor Steve Brandau’s “Parents Matter Act” by a narrow vote of 3-2, with Supervisor Buddy Mendes casting the decisive vote after receiving assurances from Brandau that he would modify the resolution.

The “Parents Matter Act” was passed at the Board’s meeting on Nov. 7, where a mass of Fresno County residents flooded the board chambers to voice their say on the act’s implementation during public comment. 

Days prior to the convening, Brandau unveiled the act on Nov. 2 while speaking in front of Fresno’s main public library branch, which restricts children from accessing what Brandau referred to as “sexually explicit books” in the children’s section of libraries without a parent being present. Brandau’s proposal also removes these books from the children’s section.

“I am coming today in a very prayerful mood. This is not about trying to isolate people. Or divide people. Or hate on people,” Brandau said to the audience gathered outside of the library; a claim that many in the crowd, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, decried as disingenuous.

“Liar,” one audience member shouted.

CONCESSIONS

Under Brandau’s original plan, a 15-member committee, handpicked by the supervisors, would be entrusted with vetting books, in or destined for the children’s section, to determine if they are age-appropriate. The committee would also be in charge of determining if said books contain sexually graphic images or complex, controversial gender identity issues.

When he advanced on the topic, Mendes initially appeared inclined to be against the act. He expressed skepticism about the efficacy of such a large committee. He also had doubts as to how the books would be managed and stored.

Mendes suggested a smaller committee. He also recommended there be an appeals process to challenge the committee’s recommendations. Lastly, he said it would be prudent if a list of the books the committee deemed inappropriate be posted in the library. Brandau readily agreed, saying the committee would be made up of 11 members – 10 chosen by supervisors and one chosen by Fresno County Chief Administrative Officer Paul Nerland.

STANDING ROOM ONLY

There was an overflow crowd at Tuesday’s meeting. When the Board came to the act on the meeting agenda, audience members beat a path to speak at the podium during public comments. Board Chairman Sal Quintero limited public comments to a total of 20 minutes. The line of individuals wishing to speak spilled out of room 302 and into the hall.

Before hearing from the public, Brandau repeated much of what he said on Nov. 2. He also displayed the books and posters he presented at last week’s news conference.

“Here’s what the Parents Matter Act does, and I think it’s an appropriate response,” Brandau said. “It takes the books that have sexually explicit pictures and it takes the controversial, complex gender issues, and it says the children cannot have access to those books without their parents.”

Supervisor Brandau holding up one of the books he is calling into question for the audience as he announces the “Parents Matter Act for Fresno County Libraries,” act, which he is presenting to the next board of supervisors meeting on Nov. 7. (Darren Fraser)

As he did at the Nov. 2 news conference, Brandau said no books would be banned.

“Banned,” he said. “I’ve heard that word 10,000 times. All of these books will still be in the library.”

Brandau also reiterated the act does not target the LGBTQ+ community. He said three of the seven books he displayed were not written from any political agenda.

“They’re about growing human sexuality,” Brandau said. “This is not about targeting the LGBTQ+ crowd at all.”

THE PUBLIC HAS ITS SAY

A member from Leave Our Kids Alone spoke.

“We have one goal,” she said. “To protect our children from hyper sexualization and restore our parental rights.” She read a list of books geared toward the LGBTQ+ community available in the library.

“Having viewed some of these books, I am appalled that any child would have access to these age-inappropriate materials images,” she said.

The consensus among speakers who were opposed to the act was that it is the parents responsibility – not libraries, librarians or the government – to monitor what books their children read.

“I believe parents are the best qualified to determine what their children are reading,” said one speaker. “Supervise your child.”

A parent, who did not identify himself and who is in favor of the act, made the claim that the opposition has ulterior motives.

“It’s the same group that wants grown men in lingerie dancing for children at drag queen story hours,” he said.

Former Fresno County librarian Michelle Gordon Hartman spoke in opposition to the act. She told the Board that libraries have policies in place to safeguard against children against sexual exploitation prior speakers mentioned. She said the Supreme Court decided that vendors cannot sell to libraries materials that pass the legal threshold of obscene or pornographic.

“What you’re concerned about is what is appropriate,” Gordon Hartman said, “for which there is no legal threshold.”

She added, “If there’s a book you don’t like in the library, for you or your child, don’t check it out. Problem solved.”

SUPERVISORS WEIGH IN

Quintero and Supervisor Brian Pacheco opposed the resolution. Pacheco said he believed the resolution presented a slippery slope.

“In this particular issue, there are no winners,” Pacheco said. He said he prides himself on being the moderate on the Board.

“I know there are people who want to serve on this (library) committee who have the best intentions, but I believe this committee is a slippery slope.” He added. “I believe the parent is best suited to make the decisions.”

Quintero said when he first heard about Brandau’s proposal, he wanted to verify if there was a process for reviewing materials in the library.

“There is a process that comes from the state of California for all our county libraries,” said Quintero.

He mentioned that, currently, anyone who has objections to a book can fill out a form and it is reviewed.

“My point is,” he said, “there is a process in place.” He added, “One thing that has stuck with me in this is that parents matter. And, for me, parents should decide what their children read.”

Supervisor Nathan Magsig supported the resolution. He said he heard from many constituents in his district who support the act.

“At the end of the day, this board of supervisors sets policy for the county and I am prepared to do just that after the rest of the board members make their comments,” Magsig said.

Darren Fraser
Reporter