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Panel OKs changes to bill intended to regulate obscene books in Arkansas public libraries

House-amended SB81 advances to the state Senate by Will Langhorne | March 27, 2023 at 11:16 a.m.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (right), R-Jonesboro, and Rep. Justin Gonzales (left), R-Okalona, present SB81, a bill to amend the law concerning libraries and obscene materials, during the House Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

A Senate panel on Monday concurred with a House amendment to a bill intended to create a process for challenging books available to children in public and school libraries.

The Committee on Judiciary in a voice vote sent Senate Bill 81 to the full Senate for further consideration.

SB81, by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, would create an offense for "furnishing a harmful item to a minor" and strike a defense from state law protecting librarians from criminal prosecution under obscenity laws.

Sullivan told committee members the change made to the bill in the House was a "good amendment".

The House sponsor of the measure, Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, has said the amendment was intended to make clarifying changes.

The amendment would also allow committees of librarians and legislative panels to require a school or public library to "relocate" challenged books within their library rather than "remove" them. Gonzales has said librarians would have to place these books in a part of the library not accessible to children.

Sullivan has said the bill would not create a list of banned books and noted a librarian would have to knowingly distribute material deemed obscene by a court before they could be prosecuted.

Supporters have said the bill is needed to protect children.

Critics contend the legislation could lead to children having restricted access to important literature. The challenge process, opponents have said, would create a separation of powers issue by providing legislative bodies judicial power. Those against the bill expected it could lead to libraries and local elected officials being flooded by costly challenges.

SB81 would require libraries to form committees to review challenges to books. Sullivan has said these committees would be subject to open meetings laws.

Under the bill, people could appeal decisions made by the committees to a body of local elected officials. In the case of a school library, the body would be the school board. For a municipal or public library, appeals would go to the governing body of the county or municipality.

Gonzales has said officials would have to review books in their entirety when considering challenges.

A provision of SB81 would allow libraries to disclose confidential library records to the parent or legal guardian of a minor.

Under the bill, a person who knowingly provides a child with an item that is "harmful to minors" would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. A person also could commit this offense by transmitting through direct internet communication an item that is "harmful to minors" to a person they believe to be a minor.


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