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House committee advances bill prohibiting obscene or harmful reading material to be given to children

Public schools, libraries and museums are exempt from current Idaho law prohibiting harmful materials like pornography or obscene depictions to be given to minors.

BOISE, Idaho — A bill that would prohibit the distribution of harmful material to minors in Idaho passed the House State Affairs Committee along party lines Thursday. House Bill 666 now heads to the full House.

Many parents expect age-appropriate materials to come from public schools, libraries and museums. One Idaho lawmaker said she is seeing more obscene and harmful materials on the shelves, which is why HB 666 was introduced.

"While likely this is inadvertent, increasingly frequent exposure of our children to obscene and pornographic materials in places that I -- as a parent -- assume are safe and free from these kinds of harmful materials is downright alarming,” Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle) said.

Under Idaho law, harmful materials like pornography or obscene depictions cannot be given to minors. However, it is a subjective decision as the law is vague on what “obscene” means. 

As it stands, public schools, libraries and museums are exempt from the law. House Bill 666 would remove that exemption.

“Somewhere, there's a spigot turned on allowing all these questionable books to be purchased, and parents are starting to notice,” Cara Claridge of Coeur D’Alene said.

While some parents and lawmakers say the bill would prevent kids from reading about LGBTQ experiences and sexually graphics readings, others argue this opens up the opportunity to criminalize library staff.

"We walk down the slippery slope of censorship of constitutionally protected speech when we have a bill like this,” Boise librarian Erin Kennedy said.

There is still confusion over whether House Bill 666 would criminalize librarians or library workers for letting children check out what some may consider as an obscene book.

Director of the Ada Community Library, Mary DeWalt, said the books on its shelves go through a detailed selection process from start to finish.

“It’s actually an elected board," DeWalt said. "It’s members of the public who file just like a senator would file for office. Our library board is made up of community members and there's five of them. Part of the library board policy, the array of policies in our case, is called the 'Policy for Selecting and Discarding Materials.' It’s a policy that is set by the library board and is designed to guide pretty much the entire process.”

DeWalt said most libraries offer reconsideration forms for the public to provide feedback or concerns over books on library shelves.

“Instead of this bill, we would like to see people engaging with us on a community level," DeWalt said. "We don't see a need for this bill and we certainly do not see a need to criminalize library staff."

DeWalt added that she does remember instances where books had to be re-categorized, but said she has never had to take a book out of the library for being obscene. DeWalt said all library branches are different and the books they carry cater to their demographics.

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