Sanders signs bill for challenging books available to children in public, school libraries

A child reaches for an item from the library bookshelf in this Aug. 17, 2010 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)
A child reaches for an item from the library bookshelf in this Aug. 17, 2010 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law that aims to create a process for challenging books available to children in public and school libraries, Sanders' office announced Friday.

Senate Bill 81, which also would create an offense for "furnishing a harmful item to a minor" and strike a defense from state law protecting librarians from criminal prosecution under obscenity laws, was signed by the Republican governor on Thursday along with 56 other pieces of legislation, according to a news release.

Supporters have said the measure is needed to protect children from obscene material. Those who testified in favor have contended more transparency is needed when it comes to decisions made by libraries on which books they carry.

Critics have raised concerns the act could expose librarians to criminal liability, lead to children losing access to important pieces of literature and result in libraries and local elected officials being hampered by objections to books.

Under the new law, libraries will have to form committees to review challenges to books. These panels could decide whether to relocate books within libraries to prevent minors from accessing them.

People could appeal decisions made by the committees to a body of local elected officials. In the case of a school library, the body would be the school board. For a municipal or public library, appeals would go to the governing body of the county or city.

A provision of the act would allow libraries to disclose confidential records to the parent or legal guardian of a minor. A person who knowingly provides a child with an item that is "harmful to minors" would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.