Idaho House passes bill that could lead to prosecution of librarians for ‘harmful material’
Supporters said the bill is need to keep objectionable material out of libraries
The rotunda at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for the Idaho Capital Sun)
The Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill Monday afternoon that critics said could lead to librarians being prosecuted for checking out materials that are deemed harmful to minors.
Following a long debate, the Idaho House voted 51-14 to pass House Bill 666.
If passed into law, the bill would remove an exemption that protects libraries, schools, museums, colleges and universities and their employees for “disseminating material that is harmful to minors.”
Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, sponsored the bill and said it is necessary to protect children from what she described as pornography and obscene material she said has been making its way into libraries where children can access it.
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“We are simply asking that those that are responsible for the materials in our libraries or in museums or the other places that are listed in this code, are handled sensitively and responsibly,” DeMordaunt said. “There needs to be more vigilance, period.”
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said he was initially concerned about the bill but believes it is appropriate when viewed in the context of other state laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions that protect books and art with literary, artistic, political and scientific value.
“When you look at it in its totality, it is a little less scary,” Chaney said, adding the bill could “stem the tide” of dangerous material kids could get ahold of.
But House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, worried the bill was subjective and vague. She worried different people would disagree over what is harmful to minors and that librarians would not have clear guidance or protection.
“How in the world is any librarian facing potential criminal sanctions going to know,” Rubel said.
“It is very unfair to our librarians and educators to ask them to operate in a world where they have no idea what is legal and what is not and what will send them to jail and what will not,” Rubel added.
Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, worried the bill would have a chilling effect on libraries by threatening to throw librarians in jail.
During a public hearing over the bill last week, concerned parents who backed the bill said they objected to books that featured LGBTQ+ characters and storyline, which they said violated their children’s innocence and confused them.
“(Librarians) will be encouraged to sanitize — to censor — for fear of being prosecuted and persecuted by groups that don’t like certain content,” Berch said.
While Democrats opposed the bill, every Republican besides Rep. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, and Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, backed the bill.
“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 or anywhere else,” said Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa.
House Bill 666 will be sent to the Idaho Senate next. To become law, it needs to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little or allowed to become law without his signature.
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