April 4, 2016 / 7:44 PM / 2 years ago

Virginia governor vetoes bill to label books 'sexually explicit' in schools

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Virginia’s governor vetoed a bill on Monday that would have made the state the first in the country to require that parents be notified if students were assigned readings labeled “sexually explicit.”

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks at a hotel in Havana, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

A mother’s objection to Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” being taught in her son’s classroom helped spur the legislation that would have given parents more control over classroom materials.

“This requirement lacks flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context,” Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled legislature by votes of 77-21 in the House of Delegates and 22-17 in the Senate. That would not be enough to override McAuliffe’s veto, which would require a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

The measure would have made Virginia the first U.S. state to mandate that schools notify parents if teachers planned to use the labeled materials, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

McAuliffe said the Virginia Board of Education was studying the issue, focusing on existing local policies and potential state policies.

The measure had been opposed by a number of free speech groups, including the American Library Association and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

The novel by Morrison, a Nobel laureate, is the story of a runaway slave who kills her 2-year-old daughter to save her from a life in slavery.

“Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. The American Library Association has it on a list of banned or challenged classics.

Virginia House Speaker William Howell, a Republican who was among the bill’s sponsors, said he was unaware of McAuliffe’s veto and had no reaction.

“I have to see what his veto message said,” he said.

Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ian Simpson and Peter Cooney

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