Region & State

Committee rejects proposal to hold libraries accountable for ‘obscene’ material

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

An Arkansas legislative panel on Tuesday rejected a proposed law that would have opened the door to criminal liability for the distribution of “obscene” content by school and public libraries.

The House Judiciary Committee voted down Senate Bill 81 with a voice vote after three hours of discussion and testimony. The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) and Rep. Justin Gonzales (R-Okolona) have the option of bringing it back up for discussion.

The bill previously passed the Senate with a party-line vote on Feb. 22.

Senate Bill 81 would remove schools and public libraries from the part of Arkansas state code that currently exempts them from prosecution “for disseminating a writing, film, slide, drawing, or other visual reproduction that is claimed to be obscene” under existing obscenity laws.

The state’s definition of obscenity is “that to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest,” with prurient meaning overtly sexual.

Senate Bill 81 would not amend the definition of obscenity, but it would add the loaning of library materials to the statute governing the possession and distribution of obscene material.

Employees of public or school libraries that deliberately distribute obscene material or inform others of how to obtain it would risk conviction for a Class D felony, the bill states. Knowingly possessing obscene material would risk conviction of a Class A misdemeanor.

The bill’s opponents have said it would unfairly restrict children’s reading options and prevent children from diverse backgrounds from seeing themselves represented in books. They’ve also said it does not account for children’s ability to choose what they do and don’t read.

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