BOISE, Idaho — Legislation with the potential to fine Idaho librarians $1,000 and send them to jail for a year for checking out material to a minor that could harm them cleared the House on Monday.
The House voted 51-14 to approve the measure that backers said will protect children. But opponents said it is so undefined and subjective as to be unconstitutional.
Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel asked Republican Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, the bill’s sponsor, if a classic young adult novel by Judy Blume that included masturbation could land a librarian in jail. DeMordaunt refused to answer.
Backers of the legislation distributed material to other lawmakers they said came from public libraries and supported the legislation. The material had widely differing reactions among lawmakers.
“I would rather my 6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than get a view of this stuff one time at the public library,” said Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug.
Democratic Rep. John McCrostie had a different take.
“I don’t see it with the same disgusting eye,” he said. “I think that there is literary, artistic or political or scientific value here.”
Lawmakers said the material contained a best-selling sex education book. Lawmakers referred to the material as being in a “super-secret” folder not considered suitable for viewing on the House floor.
Specifically, the bill seeks to delete a section of Idaho code that protects schools, colleges, universities, museums, public libraries and employees of those entities from being prosecuted under another section of Idaho law involving giving harmful materials to minors. Idaho law classifies disseminating material harmful to minors a misdemeanor.
The Idaho law explicitly defines as “harmful to minors" various acts, including masturbation.
However, the Idaho law also states the law doesn't apply to “any matter which, when considered as a whole, and in context in which it is used, possesses serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors, according to prevailing standards in the adult community, with respect to what is suitable for minors.”
Democratic Rep. James Ruchti said approving the law would lead to those subject to possible prosecution removing worthwhile material that probably wasn't controversial and could be helpful to kids and communities.
“I’m afraid what they’re just going to do is just default on uber uber safe,” he said. "I’ve known a few librarians in my life; they are not risk-takers. Do you think any of them want to be subject to a misdemeanor, possible jail time, a fine?”
But supporters argued that it was better to err on the side of protecting children.
“We live in a fallen world, and it is so hard to protect our kids,” said Republican Rep. Ben Adams. “As is, the access is everywhere.”
Over the past year, book challenges and bans have reached levels not seen in decades, according to officials at the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and other advocates for free expression.
And according to PEN America, which has been tracking legislation around the country, dozens of bills have been proposed that restrict classroom reading and discussion. Virtually all of the laws focus on sexuality, gender identity or race.
The Idaho measure now goes to the Senate.
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