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Activists coming to Ruston to talk library bills, election security

Lafayette conservative group backs library legislation that Lincoln Parish board opposes
Wednesday, April 5, 2023
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The head of a Lafayette-based conservative advocacy group is coming to Ruston Thursday to hold an informational meeting at the Lincoln Parish Library and answer questions about election integrity and proposed library legislation.

Michael Lunsford, executive director of Citizens for a New Louisiana, said Ruston residents invited him primarily to address “rumors” about Louisiana’s voting system, but also to discuss bills pre-filed in the Legislature that would restrict minors’ access to library materials deemed “sexually explicit.”

Lunsford and Misti Cordell will hold the meeting in the library’s Jack Beard Community Room Thursday at 6 p.m.

Both speakers are members of the Louisiana Voting System Commission, which the Legislature formed in 2021 to provide recommendations to lawmakers on what type of voting system the state should adopt.

But Lunsford said they aren’t representing the commission at Thursday’s meeting.

“We’re just people who are paying attention,” he said.

He said he supports Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, and its sister bill pre-filed in the House by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro — legislation the Lincoln Parish Library Board of Control recently passed a resolution to formally oppose.

The bills set a definition for “sexually explicit” material and would require public libraries to create library card systems that block minors’ access to such items, if their parents so request.

The Lincoln Parish library board opposes the “sexually explicit” standard, arguing the broad definition places everything from biology textbooks to the Bible in the line of fire. It’s drafted a set of proposed amendments that members are lobbying for legislators to consider.

SB7 also places on library boards the responsibility of reviewing whether library materials meet the “sexually explicit” standard. Lunsford said he doesn’t support that part.

“You create the policy and let the librarians carry out the policy,” he said.

The library isn't sponsoring Thursday’s meeting, leaders say — it was just booked in the facility’s conference room.

But both Library Director Jeremy Bolom and board member Bill Jones said Tuesday they’re asking community members interested in library policy to attend.

“We’re encouraging people, particularly people who support the library and the approach we’ve taken to these bills, to show up,” Jones said. “I hope we have a chance to have a good, reasonable discussion.”

When asked if he knew the local board had opposed the legislation, Lunsford said he didn’t, and that didn’t have anything to do with his coming to Ruston.

“The goal of our organization is to transform Louisiana one parish at a time,” he said. “The only way to do that is if we’re in all 64 parishes.”

According to a post on her Facebook page, Ruston resident Jill Hines invited Lunsford to hold the local meeting. Hines is a writer for Lunsford’s Citizens for a New Louisiana.

The nonprofit has been at the forefront of battles in Lafayette Parish and Livingston Parish to implement library policies similar to SB7.

“Currently, we’re fighting to remove taxpayer funded pornography, erotica, and gender dysphoria propaganda from the children’s section of library systems across the state of Louisiana,” the group’s website states.

The “sexually explicit” standard is crafted from Attorney General Jeff Landry’s “Protecting Innocence” report. The gubernatorial candidate is backing SB7 and similar measures in the upcoming legislative session.

It was Landry who appointed Lunsford and Cordell to the Voting System Commission. Cordell is also a Ouachita Parish Library Board of Control member.

Lunsford said providing information about Louisiana’s voting system is his main focus in coming to Ruston, and the library bills were “tacked on.”

“The reason I believe the commission was set up is to restore trust in our election system with our Louisiana voters,” he said. “That’s kind of our thing. We’ve got folks out there trying to disparage our elections, and we’re trying to address their concerns.”