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Read Freely, ALLA challenge APLS code changes

The groups say the adopted changes stray far from the original proposal put forward for public comment.

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The Alabama Library Association and Read Freely Alabama submitted challenges Friday morning to the new Alabama Public Library Service administrative code changes.

The letters, sent to the members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rule Review, are practically the same and list numerous concerns with the rule making process.

The groups are challenging the change in the proposal from Gov. Kay Ivey’s more modest adjustments to language inspired by book-banning groups such as Clean Up Alabama, Eagle Forum and Moms for Liberty.

“The library agency gave an initial notice in the January 2024 Legislative Services Filing, but then the APLS substantially changed the language from what was provided in the notice and did not provide new notice with new opportunity for public comment,” the groups challenge in their letters.

Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, told APR Thursday that there is no provision under the Alabama Administrative Procedures Act that precludes agencies from changing the proposed rule changes without requiring a second public comment period.

There are certain “checks and balances” on the process though, Lathram said, including challenging the process before the joint committee.

“That’s historically been a good argument in those kinds of situations,” Lathram said, referring to substantial departures from the originally proposed rule changes.

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The joint committee could even further amend the code itself, Lathram said, without the need for an additional public comment period. There is also potential relief through the courts outlined in the AAPA.

In addition to arguing that the process violated proper procedures, the groups argue that the rule changes will result in harmful costs to libraries.

“First, all library staff and resources will be redirected to analyzing, cataloging, and relocating children’s and youth’s material,” the groups wrote. “Without any knowledge or clarity, libraries are predicting they’ll have to temporarily close to the public, with some understaffed rural libraries anticipating ceasing public services for months.”

The groups also estimate that library employees with wages of $4,000 to $6,000 per month will now have to have their time redirected toward trying to comply with the changes. There is also the potential costs of barriers for smaller libraries to create separate spaces for minors, and some libraries will need to purchase new systems to provide library cards for minors. Those systems can cost upwards of $15,000, the groups say.

And these costs are coming despite no widespread issues with Alabama libraries according to the groups and APLS board chair Ron Snider, who abstained from voting on the proposed amended changes. Research conducted by APLS found that only 3 percent of libraries faced challenges and less than 1 percent of library patrons challenged material.

The members of the joint committee are Sen. Greg Albritton, Sen. Clyde Chambliss, Sen. Donnie Chesteen, Sen. Vivian Figures, Sen. Sam Givhan, Sen. Steve Livingston, Sen. Arthur Orr, Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, House Speaker Pro Tem Chris Pringle, Rep. David Faulkner, Rep. Danny Garrett, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, Rep. Joe Lovvorn, Rep. Mary Moore, Rep. Rex Reynolds, Rep. Randall Shedd and House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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