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Bill to regulate libraries passes Arkansas House

Sarah Kellogg
Senate Bill 81, a bill to regulate libraries in Arkansas, moved through its final legislative hurdle Wednesday.

A bill to regulate libraries passed a final vote in the Arkansas House of Representatives Wednesday.

Senate Bill 81 will create an identical book challenge policy for all libraries which can be appealed up to city and county government entities. The bill would criminalize librarians who furnish books deemed to be obscene.

Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, presented the bill. He said the criticisms he had gotten on the bill were based on misunderstandings.

“It's not going to send all your librarians to prison,” he said. “And it's not going to ban any books.”

He said he felt there was enough infrastructure in the bill to insulate librarians from unfair penalties.

“It would have to go through a court process and be declared to be obscene,” he said, explaining that librarians “probably should go to prison if their libraries harbor obscenity.”

Many Republican lawmakers said they had found inappropriate books in their libraries that they wanted to keep out of the hands of children. Others said they wanted to prevent obscene materials from showing up in the future.

Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, was the only lawmaker to speak against the bill. She said she is against dictating what children are allowed to read, and that the bill was too vague. She referenced the biblical Song of Solomon and the Book of Ezekiel.

“Each of these books in the Bible has a very graphic and descriptive sex scene,” she said. “If they were in any other book, I think it would be challenged.”

Vaught said she was worried these challenge processes could “bog down” courts. She listed books like "The Great Gatsby" and "Catcher in the Rye" which have faced challenges, but are also required reading at many high schools.

The bill passed on a vote of 56 to 25 with eight lawmakers voting present. It’s the bill’s final hurdle before being sent back to the Senate, then to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be signed into law.

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