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Idaho Senate passes 'harmful material' in libraries bill

The Idaho Library Association testified in strong opposition to the bill in committee hearings.

BOISE, Idaho — This story originally appeared in The Idaho Press.

The Idaho Senate voted 26-9 on Thursday night to pass a bill aimed at restricting minors’ access to materials deemed harmful in public libraries and in schools.

The House previously voted 40-30 to pass HB 314, which requires libraries to take “reasonable steps” to restrict those under 18 from accessing materials deemed harmful and includes a civil penalty. House members on Friday morning concurred with a slight amendment on the bill that adds a reference to the state's Tort Claims Act, after another lengthy debate on the bill.

Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, sponsored the bill in the Senate. She said through working with the library association, they couldn’t come to an agreement on the enforcement mechanism.

The Idaho Library Association testified in strong opposition to the bill in committee hearings.  

“It is our job to protect the children,” Carlson said. “If we don’t, then who will?”

The bill defines “harmful to minors” as any performance, description or representation of “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse” when it “appeals to the prurient interest” and has sexual depictions which “are patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable material for minors.”

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, objected to the fact that the bill included in its definition of “sexual conduct” any act of homosexuality.

“None of the things that we have described today are in libraries, there’s no pornography," Wintrow said. "This is about the word homosexual in the sexual conduct definition, and the people that are trying to ban books that have LGBTQ themes in them."

The Meridian Library District recently released a list of books that citizens have requested to be removed or banned, and many featured LGBTQ characters, the Idaho Press previously reported. Ada County commissioners denied a bid to dissolve the library district.  

Under the bill, library boards or school districts could be sued for up to $2,500 if a minor obtained harmful materials and the library or school didn’t take “reasonable steps” to restrict access.

Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, said he supported the intentions behind the bill but opposed the civil cause of action that allows a minor exposed to such material or their parents or legal guardians to sue institutions for $2,500, as well as actual damages and “any other relief to prevent the defendant school or public library from violating” the requirements the bill.

“My whole beef with this bill is the enforcement mechanism,” Schroeder said. "There exists a way to enforce this; a county prosecutor can bring injunctive relief against existing obscenity law.”

Sen. Ben Toews, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he felt like the opponents of the bill downplayed the seriousness of it. He said his child in a library recently found a book that he found inappropriate, and his family has decided they don't feel as safe there.

“I really think that our libraries should be a safe place of our families,” Toews said.

Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, said the current obscenity laws have a “loophole” that needed to be closed; the obscenity laws currently exempt public libraries, schools and museums.

“If our libraries were handing out drugs, we would have a big problem with that,” Nichols said. “... pornography is a lot like drugs, it does the exact same thing to the brain as what drugs do.”

The bill will head to the governor for consideration. It faced a bumpy path over the session; a previous version of the bill had been killed by the House Education Committee in early March. It later went through the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by the sponsor’s brother.

It passed the House after a lengthy debate, as previously reported. 

Last year, the House passed HB 666, which would have criminalized librarians who gave minors harmful materials. That bill died in the Senate.


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