Libraries receive potential lifeline in state Senate committee

April 21, 2023


missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate Appropriations Committee diverged from its House counterparts by reallocating just over $4.5 million to public libraries Wednesday.

The allocation comes from a recommendation from Gov. Mike Parson, whose proposed budget allocated $4.5 million before the House of Representatives recommended a budget of $0.

Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, has proposed the defunding of public libraries as a consequence of state and school libraries’ efforts to sue the state against a law banning sexually explicit materials.

However, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, and his colleagues said they knew that reallocating library funds was important to their constituents.

“It was a priority of the committee to restore, (based on) comments that I heard from folks back home,” Hough said.

Their constituents told them that libraries served a greater purpose than just housing books.

“In some communities, they’re career centers. They’re access to high-speed internet,” he said. “I think the committee did the right thing and put that money back in.”

The Missouri Library Association reflected this in a statement: “State aid helps libraries provide relevant collections, literacy-based programming and technology resources to their communities.”

This reversal comes after Missouri libraries have already been preparing for the worst.

“I hear a lot of anxiety and worry from all of the librarians that are a part of our association,” Otter Bowman, president of the Missouri Library Association, said in previous Missourian reporting. “This is a scary time to be trying to manage everything in libraries.”

Maintaining funding for mental health services was also on the minds of the committee.

“(We’ve) seen an ongoing and continuing commitment to mental health funding, to suicide prevention funding. (There’s) commitment from the Senate Appropriations Committee to do as much as we can in those spaces and help people that are asking for our services,” Hough said.

The committee was also generous to the Department of Social Services, including adding funding for the TANF Summer Jobs program, the Youth Build Works program and the Mokan Institute, which provides job readiness training.

Notably, the budget also includes $1.5 million to be allocated to the Merchandising Practices Revolving Fund for the Attorney General. This funding could go toward the prosecution of health care providers under Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s emergency regulation.

After the Appropriations Committee is finished, the budget will head to the Senate floor to be debated before returning to the House, where any differences will be worked out.