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Legislature Enacts Measures to Protect Children

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LITTLE ROCK – During the 2023 session the legislature enacted a series of bills designed to protect children from exposure to sexually inappropriate literature, live performances and Internet sites.

Act 372 gives parents more options to have offensive material relocated in local libraries and school libraries.

After making an objection to the librarian and if necessary making an appeal to the library board, parents would be able to appeal to the county Quorum Court or City Council. Both are composed of people elected by voters.

Act 372 removes the current exemption that protects librarians from criminal prosecution. If librarians knowingly maintain material that is deemed obscene, they could be prosecuted.

Even before passage of Act 372, parents had challenged material available in libraries at Jonesboro and Crawford County. Also, challenges have been reported at Siloam Springs and in Saline County.

Act 131 began as a Senate bill that originally would have banned drag shows in public places and performances for children by classifying them as adult entertainment.

However, it was amended in the House of Representatives, and now it adds restrictions to existing laws on adult-oriented shows. As enacted, it specifically prohibits adult oriented shows on public property and prohibits minors from attending. It also prohibits public funding of adult entertainment.

Act 612 makes pornography websites liable for harm they cause to minors, and requires them to make reasonable efforts to require age verification. For example, they can require a digital ID before allowing viewers to access the site.

Act 689 would require social media sites to verify the age of users, and users under the age of 18 would need parental permission. Prosecutors could seek fines of $2,500 per violation against the social media companies. Act 689 takes effect on September 1 of this year.

Act 619 makes it a crime for an adult to knowingly enter and stay in a public bathroom assigned to the opposite sex. It does not apply to parents and guardians of children under seven years old.

Act 317 requires schools to designate bathrooms for the exclusive use of students according to the sex indicated on their birth certificate. If a student doesn’t want to identify as a male or female, the school shall provide a reasonable accommodation, such as a bathroom or locker with space for only one person at a time.

Act 274 allows more medical malpractice lawsuits against physicians who perform gender transformation procedures on children. It allows lawsuits up to 15 years after the minor turns 18. For most medical malpractice suits the limit is two years after the injury.

Act 542 prohibits schools and colleges from requiring teachers and staff to use a student’s preferred pronoun, such as they/them. Teachers and staff would have to call students by “he” or “she,” and “him” or “her.”

Act 733 applies to people of all ages. It prohibits state and local governments from burdening a person’s religious liberty unless it shows a compelling public interest, e.g. public health measures that might conflict with church activities.

A person whose religious exercise has been burdened may seek compensatory or declaratory relief in court.

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