LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Controversy is heating up when it comes to a new law in Arkansas you have likely heard of.
Act 372 will allow library employees to face criminal penalties for distributing books found to be harmful to children.
Executive Director of Central Arkansas Library System, Nate Coulter, said one of the lawyers for the library came to the board Thursday to explain litigation options when it comes to this new law. The board voted to allow the attorney to keep exploring litigation.
“I call it an attack on the freedom to read in the first amendment,” Coulter said in an interview Friday.
Coulter said there are two components so far, his board and library attorneys believe are unconstitutional.
One is the harmful to minors, criminalization provision.
“The idea that vilifying librarians and subjecting them to criminal penalties for something that has already been determined in one instance to be a standard that is flawed, is hard to understand frankly,” Coulter said.
Coulter pointed to a federal case in 2004 where a similar statute was found unconstitutional.
“Even though they switched words here and there, the effect is the same,” he said.
The second component is the statute that allows a city board or county quorum court to decide if a book stays in the library or needs to be moved.
We reached out to State Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) who sponsored the bill that is now law. He said:
“The only confusion as to the constitutionality of Act 372 seems to be in Nate Coulter’s head, as fueled by the law firm salivating over the possibility of biting into the $50,000 that the Central Arkansas Library System budgets for lawyers. Coulter campaigned against the bill, and now that it is law, he has been looking to spend taxpayer money to overturn it–including falsely claiming it applies to materials the Attorney General himself made clear the law doesn’t cover. I wonder whether the citizens of central Arkansas, who pay amongst the highest library taxes in the state, know that the head of their library system treats their hard-earned money as a slush fund to pursue his personal progressive crusade.”
In response to the statement, Coulter said,
“When you cannot respond on the merits or the substance of what we are talking about, then I guess you resort to attack me personally,” Coulter said. “This is not about me. It is not about Dan Sullivan. It is about the law.”
Coulter added that the library is looking for pro bono representation. As of now, the law is set to go into effect August 1. Coulter said they expect a lawsuit to be filed before then.