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Bill regulating Arkansas libraries fails in committee

Arkansas Legislature
Sen. Dan Sullivan presents his bill to add regulations to library books.

A bill that would have regulated the way libraries handle challenged books failed in the Arkansas House Judiciary committee Tuesday.

In Arkansas, all school districts and media centers are legally required to set up their own book challenge processes. Senate Bill 81 would have created one standard policy for all libraries, regardless of size. The process would have let book challenges be appealed to city and county governments.

Jonesboro Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, the bill’s sponsor, spoke on his respect for libraries and said he wanted to create one consistent, transparent system for challenging books.

“Children go to the library all the time without their parents,” he said, explaining that he wanted to protect those children from harmful materials.

Sullivan said there had been misinformation and rumors that could keep his bill from passing.

Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock, said although the bill may be designed to protect minors, it could be used to censor books with diverse or controversial viewpoints— something she said had been proven in other legal cases.

“If we go to Case v. Unified School District, what the court found is that all of the books that were considered educationally unsuitable tended to come from either gay, Jewish, or Black authors,” Hudson said.

During public comment, Central Arkansas Library System Executive Director Nate Coulter said this new system could clog up the courts for years.

“Lawyers are expensive and lawsuits are expensive,” he said. “And if the county or the city loses a lawsuit because they took some book out for content or viewpoint, you're going to pay the attorney’s fees for the people who brought that lawsuit.”

The bill failed during a voice vote, but Sullivan can try to bring the bill back to a House committee in the future.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio.