A revamped library bill is headed to the House floor, after a previous version failed to make it out of committee.
House Bill 314 seeks to prohibit obscene materials from public and school libraries. The bill defines “harmful materials” in detail. It also paves a path for aggrieved parents to sue their school or library district for up to $2,500 in damages — a decrease from the $10,000 fine written into the previous bill.
Bill co-sponsors Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa and Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, say the intent is to prevent minors from being exposed to pornographic materials, which they argue are abundant in Idaho libraries.
HB 314 comes after a tense House Education Committee meeting on March 1, when the committee killed one library bill (brought forward by the same co-sponsors) and punted on another, which was backed by the Idaho Library Association. Neither bill was brought back to the committee.
But the March 1 meeting resulted in an informal discussion between co-sponsors Crane and Carlson, representatives from the Idaho Library Association and other lawmakers. Crane characterized the discussion as “good,” but said it did not result in a collaborative piece of legislation. Crane said the librarians mostly opposed the $2,500 fine written into the bill.
“We agreed to disagree,” said Crane.
And librarians showed at the Statehouse Thursday to oppose HB 314.
Idaho Library Association President Lance McGrath said the bill poses a threat to first amendment rights and intellectual freedom. He repeatedly told lawmakers that libraries don’t have pornographic collections, and characterized concerns about obscene materials in libraries as a “perception issue.”
“Libraries do not contain materials that are, by law, defined as obscene,” McGrath said, sending snickers through the packed committee room.
Erin Kennedy, the ILA’s intellectual freedom committee chair, said libraries are meant to offer diverse collections. Removing materials based on one group’s values could compromise the needs of other community members. The beauty of libraries, she said, is that they have something for everyone, including materials that may be controversial or unpopular.
“If you don’t like or agree with the ideas in a book, there is a breathtakingly simple solution — don’t read it,” said Kennedy.
By large, the librarians denied that their collections contain pornographic content. At least six others testified in support of HB 314.
One man displayed pornographic magazines from a local sex shop as he testified before the committee. He compared them to scans of a book he allegedly found in the Meridian Library.
Rathdrum parent Nina Beesley (who previously testified in the House Education Committee) said her local library has a “plethora” of obscene materials that haven’t been removed after over two years of pushback.
“The state has institutionalized harm to kids,” said Beesley.
After over an hour of testimony and discussion, the committee sent the bill to the House floor on a party-line vote.