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Idaho Republican legislators revive library materials bill

Idaho Rep. Jaron Crane (R, Nampa) is the lead sponsor of a bill that would make libraries legally vulnerable if a patron finds obscene materials on their shelves. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Photo by Otto Kitsinger
Idaho Rep. Jaron Crane (R, Nampa) is the lead sponsor of a bill that would make libraries legally vulnerable if a patron finds obscene materials on their shelves. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho libraries bill heads to House floor, with support from legislative leadership, after Senate bill failed by one vote

Weeks after a library materials regulation bill failed by one vote in the state Senate, Idaho lawmakers on Monday quickly advanced an amended library bill that stalled earlier this session.

The amended bill, now headed to the Idaho House floor, would allow children or their parents to file a legal claim against a public or school library if they obtain materials deemed harmful to minors. That’s if libraries don’t move materials within 30 days of receiving a request to relocate the material “to a section designated for adults only.” Children or parents could receive $250 in statutory damages, along with actual damages and other relief, such as injunctive relief, under the bill.

The amended bill comes weeks after the Idaho Senate rejectedSenate Bill 1289, a library materials bill that involved a review process that critics called complicated.

Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, is co-sponsoring the bill advancing now, an amended version ofHouse Bill 384, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star. Crane also co-sponsored Senate Bill 1289.

“I can assure you that there is no book banning and there’s no book burning and there’s no book removal anywhere in this legislation. What we have to look at when you look at these libraries is that you have differing viewpoints and different opinions from taxpayers,” Crane said.

The Idaho House State Affairs Committee on Monday advanced the amended version of House Bill 384 to the House’s second reading calendar. When bills reach the House’s third reading calendar, they are up for debate by the full House. 

Idaho library officials testify against bill

Crane, Winder and Moyle had co-sponsored House Bill 384, which was introduced earlier this year but didn’t advance while Senate Bill 1289 was advancing. The State Affairs Committee on Monday held Crane’s previous bill, House Bill 384, and moved forward its amended version.

Idaho Library Association President Lance McGrath called the bill unneeded and said it would strain libraries.

“The private right of action creates a bounty system that will place an incredible financial burden on libraries and open them up to spurious actions and the potential for expensive litigation,” McGrath said.

He said the bill “imposes government restrictions on free speech, relies on vague and overly broad language, is redundant and will have a chilling effect on free expression.”

Jeff Kohler, a trustee of the Meridian Library District, said every library that he’s aware of already has a written policy for relocation. In the past 12 years, only 13 books out of 200,000 books in his library had been challenged, he said. And none of those decisions were appealed up to the library’s board of trustees, Kohler said.

“These numbers tell me that our community’s patrons and taxpayers are pleased with our library and with the books it contains,” Kohler said. “Please don’t add complicated regulations to deal with a problem that doesn’t exist.”

What the bill would do

The bill would rely on Idaho’s existing definition of materials harmful to minors, which includes “any act of … homosexuality” under its definition of sexual conduct.

The bill would also amend Idaho’s legal definition of materials harmful to minors. One of those amendments would be to add a definition of schools that includes “public and private school” that provide K-12 instruction.

Crane said while the bill wouldn’t block libraries from having such materials, he said it does call for relocation.

The committee’s two Democrats voted against advancing the bill.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said the bill promotes or encourages lawsuits or court action, when he said he thinks courts should stay out of politics as much as possible.

“Litigation often raises the temperature rather than reduces the temperature between two parties. And I think it should be discouraged in cases like this, and this bill does not do that,” Gannon said.

Under the bill, a county prosecuting attorney or attorney general would have cause of action for “injunctive relief against any school or public library” that violates the bill’s ban on promoting, giving or making available to children material that’s considered harmful to minors.

The bill would require libraries to have a form for people to request review of materials.

The bill outlines two affirmative defenses to civil causes of action: A reasonable cause to believe that the minor was at least age 18, like a driver’s license; or verification that the minor was accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

If passed, the bill would take effect July 1, 2024.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.