LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A bill making its way through the legislature looks to regulate obscene books inside of libraries for kids, though opposers tell us they feel this is a power move to make sure kids are not reading books that do not align with certain agendas.
Senate Bill 81 was introduced by State Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro). It was presented to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday and failed, though passed with amendments on Thursday. Sullivan said the amendments were technical and made no major changes.
Sullivan said there are a lot of rumors and misinformation about the bill, but it is simple and meant to give parents some control when it comes to books that could be harmful for kids.
Executive Director of the Central Arkansas Library System Nate Coulter said this disrupts Arkansans’ rights and the bill seems to be an attempt to promote a certain agenda.
“It will frustrate one of our chief freedoms: the fundamental right to read what you want to read,” Coulter said. “It is an illustration of people who want to use their legislative power, governmental power, to bully other people into what they read or do not read.”
The bill would amend the Arkansas code for endangering the welfare of a minor to include sexual material and remove protection for library employees.
The materials included under the measure would feature “nudity, sexual intercourse, deviate sexual activity, sexual contact, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” following guidelines as held by “the average adult applying contemporary state standards,” furnishing material, including by internet, makes a person criminally liable by the bill’s terms.
In the past, the law gave exceptions to school or library employees who provided material while “acting within the scope of his or her regular employment.” The bill would remove library employees from the exception list.
Coulter said he feels the bill implies librarians are distributing books to kids that sexualize or endanger children.
“Librarians are not doing that,” he said. “Librarians are their friends.”
Sullivan said the bill is meant to create a specific process for parents to keep books they think could be harmful out of their kid’s reach.
“You go to the librarian, you go to the library board, and now you can go to the quorum court,” Sullivan said. “Only a local prosecutor can determine if its obscene and take it to court.”
Coulter said it should not be up to local governments to decide this, and he believes this goes beyond “sexual material.”
“They want to find things that are offensive to their sensibilities, things that involve race, LGBT populations, and they want to say those things are obscene, that are not legally-by definition-obscene,” he said.
SB81 is headed to the House floor next week for final approval from legislators.