The Sentinel-Record

Library bill fails to pass House panel

- JAMES LEIGH The Sentinel-Record

LITTLE ROCK — After nearly three hours of discussion, members of the state House Judiciary Committee voted against a bill that would remove a defense for school and public librarians regarding obscene material.

Senate Bill 81 by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, failed a voice vote after nearly three hours of discussion and testimony. While a committee member requested a roll-call vote, committee chair Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, closed the session without recognizin­g the request.

The vote was not discussed in the committee’s afternoon session.

Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, asked Sullivan how, since courts have to determine whether something is obscene, the bill does not violate the separation of powers.

“I’ve met with Municipal League lawyers and the (Arkansas Associatio­n of Counties) lawyers,” the senator replied. “They would disagree with you. They have no objection to this. … They say there is no legal basis for the case you’re making.”

Sullivan said the purpose of the bill was to standardiz­e the process for challengin­g the “appropriat­eness of materials” at public and school libraries and not to determine whether an item is obscene, and Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock, asked why the legislativ­e bodies over public or school libraries — quorum court, city board or school board — are not required by the bill to read the material.

“The bill specifical­ly says that they are to look at the informatio­n transmitte­d by the library, but there is nothing that requires them to actually read the materials underlying the challenge,” she said. “Given that fact, how is the city board making a decision as to whether or not the materials are appropriat­e or not if they don’t even see them?”

“I think the remedy there is the voters,” Sullivan replied. “That’s why we go to an elected board. If you’re an elected person and they bring material to you and you don’t read it, I think the voters would handle that. … They can read it or not read it, but the voters will make the determinat­ion whether they’ll continue in that position or not.”

Several librarians spoke in opposition to the bill, including Pulaski Heights Middle School Library Media Specialist Brittany Brooks, who also spoke before the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Sen. Sullivan’s intent for the bill may be pure, but the ramificati­ons have already been seen in libraries around the state,” she said, noting speakers were allowed only one minute to voice their thoughts before the senate committee.

“A certain group, who is represente­d here today, has already produced a list of books that they don’t like. The majority of them are books written by people of color, LGBTQ authors, and that list has been disseminat­ed to librarians around the state, who have already started taking them off the shelves for fear of being challenged,” she said. Sullivan said the bill does not mention anything regarding whether an author is of the LGBTQ community.

“This bill makes no reference to that. … It’s not in the bill, and it’s never intended to be in the bill. It’s only intended to give parents an opportunit­y to object,” he said.

Garland County Library Director Adam Webb, who is also president of the organizati­on Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries, also spoke, explaining the bill does not specify that items are to be moved to a different section of the library.

“Section 5 only talks about removing materials,” he said. “It doesn’t talk about moving them out of the children’s department and putting them in a different section of the library. When you read that bill, it says ‘remove’ about eight times in the two challenge sections for public libraries and school libraries.”

Webb also questioned which legislativ­e body would be in charge of appeals for Jonesboro “a joint city and county library” and noted the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library is also part of a regional library system.

Gloria Morton, a member of the Washington County chapter of Moms for Liberty, asked the committee to support the bill.

“One argument is that a book should be read in its entirety and not a one-line excerpt as the basis for removal or relocation in the library,” she said, expressing her frustratio­n that the committee did not allow handouts or other visual aids. “Well, what if the excerpt leads a minor to a website like kink. com, which is a pornograph­ic website, which if you had your packet, you would have seen what is.”

Another person speaking in favor of the bill was Derek Arce from Siloam Springs, who is currently trying to have at least 10 books removed from the shelves at the Siloam Springs Library.

“I think the bill overall is solid, and it does what it’s intended to do, which is to return control to local governing bodies and parents,” he said. “I understand people say, ‘You shouldn’t be able to choose what my child reads because you don’t agree with it.’ We already make those decisions in our communitie­s.

“We need to quit pretending that if one child reads this that that has zero effect on the overall community. It spreads. It spreads like gangrene,” Arce said.

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