OPINION | DAN SULLIVAN: Follow the law

New library act clear on obscenity

I'm the sponsor of Act 372, formerly Senate Bill 81. I find odd the ongoing drama from Nate Coulter, the head of the Central Arkansas Library System, regarding this simple law.

The law has three parts. First, it eliminates a special exception in obscenity law for librarians and teachers. Who actually is opposed to striking this carve-out? After all, we don't exempt pharmacists from drug-dealing laws, slaughter houses from animal cruelty laws, and doctors from sexual-assault laws. Yet prior to my bill, teachers and librarians, who are the closest to our children, were 100 percent legally free to provide children obscene material at their jobs--while you and I thankfully were not. Act 372 fixed that.

Second, the law creates a uniform process for challenging books available to children in public and school libraries. So now, parents concerned about the placement of inappropriate material in the children's section can appeal the decisions of unelected librarians to local elected officials.

Of course, even prior to this law, a citizen had the right to object to placing unsuitable content in areas designated for minors, or to anything else for that matter. This law simply provides a formal process for review and, critically, keeps that decision-making local--as it has always been.

Finally, Act 372 expands existing law that already prohibits "displaying" material harmful to minors. Act 372 uses the longstanding definition in the law of what's harmful to minors necessary for the display prohibition, and makes it illegal to provide that same material to minors. This protection exists in several other states.

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that we already prohibited displaying harmful material but somehow didn't prevent providing the same content to children. That seemed like a loophole in need of a common-sense fix. Act 372 provided that fix.

Throughout the process of enacting Act 372, Coulter made claims about it. He asserted it's unconstitutional. It's not. He claimed it was vague. It's not. He was generally confused. That's on him.

Now that Act 372 is law, Coulter continues to sound off on the law. And he has used taxpayer money to hire a law firm to join his inquisition against the law.

I believe the truth is that the only confusion as to the constitutionality of Act 372 is in Nate Coulter's head. His insensibility is fueled by the law firm he hired salivating over the $50,000 that the Central Arkansas Library System sets aside for lawyers. Coulter campaigned against the bill, and now that it is law, he is spending taxpayers' money to decry it.

In his latest rant, Coulter believes that the proscription on furnishing harmful items to minors applies to digital materials. That's false. This paper, in fact, reported that "Arkansas' attorney general said on Friday that [the] law ... does not apply to e-books and audiobooks despite concerns from the head of the Central Arkansas Library system over whether thousands of items in digital libraries remain vulnerable to scrutiny under the rule."

The attorney general further stated that "If someone is going to the library's website to download an e-book, for example, that is outside the scope of the statute."

I wonder whether the citizens of central Arkansas know they pay among the highest library taxes in the state. I wonder whether they know they're paying Coulter $191,900.80 in salary. I wonder whether they know Coulter plans on spending $30,000 to sue the state to undo Act 372. I wonder whether they know that the head of their library system appears to be treating their hard-earned money as a slush fund to pursue his personal progressive crusade.

Coulter might think he knows better how to run this state and what laws the largely conservative electorate wants. He's free to run for office and try to repeal Act 372. In the meantime, it's state law, and I expect him to follow it to the letter.

Sen. Dan Sullivan represents District 20 in the Arkansas Senate.