(The Center Square) – The Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation Monday to a bill that would penalize librarians who knowingly distribute what is deemed obscene material.
Senate Bill 81 would require school and public libraries to create committees that would determine what library material is considered obscene. The bill doesn’t change the federal definition of obscenity, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro.
If the bill passes, a librarian knowingly distributing material deemed obscene could be charged with a felony. A librarian who simply possesses the material could face a misdemeanor charge.
“Right now, librarians — public school and public libraries — are excluded from obscenity law,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think there’s anyone that’s above the law. I don’t think we should have people who have special stature, including our librarians.”
The majority of people that spoke during the two-hour hearing were against the bill.
Andrew Webb, director of the Garland County Library, said the bill did not address the fiscal impact from possible legal challenges.
“There’s no stipulation in the bill that a person has to have standing to challenge books,” Webb said.
Other opponents challenged the constitutionality of the bill.
“Senate Bill 81 seeks to make criminals out of our most important members of our community — librarians and teachers-based on the whims of political parties and organizations,” said Jessica Disney. “As Americans, we have a constitutional right to read and view what we wish.”
Supporters of the bill said obscene materials should not be available to children.
“We should not have to worry about if our kids are going to school and being able to check out books that are inappropriate,” said Courtney Roland of Cabot.
Sens. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, cast the only “no” votes.
The committee also gave a “do pass” recommendation to a bill that would make it easier to sue physicians who treat minors for gender identity issues.
The bill would give minors or their parents up to 15 years to sue physicians, which is an amendment from the original bill that gave families up to 30 years to sue. The lawsuit must allege mental, physical or emotional harm because of the treatment.
Both bills go before the Senate for full approval.