State Sen. Dan Sullivan — always at the forefront of the far right’s playbook and no friend of libraries, the First Amendment or anything spicier than saltines — has filed a bill that would punish librarians if they make available materials to children that Sullivan defines as obscene.
Republican Rep. Justin Gonzales of Okolono co-sponsored the proposal, SB81, which would amend a state law to create the offense of “furnishing a harmful item to a minor; and to amend the law concerning obscene materials loaned by a library.”
The law currently provides an exemption for employees of public libraries, schools and museums from prosecution. Now, Sullivan, a Jonesboro Republican, would have the measure exempt only museums.
Furnishing what Sullivan, not the Constitution, considers “a harmful item” to a minor would be a Class A misdemeanor. In Arkansas, that’s punishable by up to one year in jail.
Anyone considered a “mandated reporter” — including but not limited to an employee in a minor’s school district, the minor’s guardian and a temporary “caretaker” for the minor — who fails to report what Sullivan considers a violation of the law would also be subject to a misdemeanor charge.
The bill also would amend state law to include anyone who lends “obscene” material to minors at a library to a provision that could lead to a Class D felony conviction.
A Class D felony in Arkansas is punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. So, if our prisons aren’t already crowded enough, now we will need to build one for librarians.
Would this measure apply to the drivers of Amazon delivery vans? Would it apply to the little free libraries maintained by the best of people, including at least one church in Conway? Would it apply to even one of the hundreds of books I’ve donated to the Conway library and Goodwill, which in turn sells them? Though the bill doesn’t state this, I suspect Sullivan and his disciples are primarily worried about books dealing with LGBQT issues. I hear very few complaints about old-fashioned heterosexual depictions in books.
The measure also would subject cities, counties and the state to civil action and monetary judgments in some cases.
Crystal Gates, executive director of the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, said federal law already addresses obscenity matters.
“Regarding the obscenity laws, and the possible prosecution of librarians under those laws, my position is that federal law already addresses this,” Gates said.
“All of our materials are curated via library vendors, various publishers, and organizations doing business within the United States, which all fall under federal law, and therefore are prohibited from selling or distributing obscene materials.,” Gates added. “Not only does our library have no obscene resources or materials, but no public library in Arkansas does.”
Sullivan’s far-flung bill is open to more than a little interpretation. One person’s view of what’s obscene, deviate or even sexually exciting may vary immensely from another person’s view. What may excite a man Sullivan’s age may not cause a 17-year-old boy or girl to bat an eyelash. If you’re going to ban nudity in books, what about all the science and medical books? What about illustrations of Adam and Eve before they started wearing fig leaves?
This isn’t Sullivan’s first time to target libraries. He’s the guy who helped defund the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library because he did bat an eyelash over a gay-pride display the library had a year earlier. As you can see, he’s also one to hold grudges.