By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The House State Affairs Committee advanced a bill on Thursday that would prohibit public libraries from distributing what legislators deem “obscene” materials to juveniles.
HB 314, introduced by Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, moved forward 11-2 on a party-line vote. The bill is Crane’s second attempt at a library materials bill, as a similar proposal, HB 139, died in the Education Committee last month.
The committee heard about an hour-and-a-half of testimony from concerned community members and concerned librarians. One testifier even brought in copies of “Hustler” magazine to compare it to something he got at an Idaho library.
Libraries do not distribute “Hustler” or other pornographic magazines in Idaho.
The bill prohibits librarians from allowing any child to check out obscene materials that are “harmful to minors.” The term “harmful to minors” is defined as including “descriptions or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse.” The content may be harmful to minors when “applying contemporary community standards” and are “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable material for minors.”
In this bill, a parent could sue a library for $2,500 if a child is allowed to check out or be exposed to the material.
Crane said per the bill, libraries would not need remove materials, they would just need to take reasonable steps to keep the content away from children.
“The bill will not hurt librarians, but holds the institution responsible,” said Crane.
Co-sponsor Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, spoke to the committee about pornography’s impact on children.
“Whatever you feed the brain is what it learns to love,” said Carlson. “Pornography harms a child’s views of others, whether you are 4, 14, or 40. Reviewing harmful material leads the user to objectify others. It teaches children that sex is selfish, it’s violent, consent is not necessary, partners are objects for pleasure and it’s expected.”
Lance McGrath, president of the Idaho Library Association, spoke in opposition to the bill. He stressed that he did not believe libraries distribute obscene materials.
“Idaho libraries, whether school or public, do not provide materials that are harmful to minors,” he said. “Librarians believe parents have rights and responsibilities to guide their children’s use of school and public libraries.”
McGrath said libraries do have a review process if a patron files a challenge to a book. Libraries do contain sexual education books, he said.
“It doesn’t mean everything in the book is appropriate for a child at a certain age,” he said.
Conrad Woodall, director of Parents Rights for Education, told legislators that exposure to pornography puts children at a higher risk to sexually abuse their peers.
“People may differ on what pervasively vulgar means, but I ask you what education value sexually explicit material has when a large body of research shows harmful effects on children,” Woodall said.
Librarian Erin Kennedy, the intellectual freedom chair for the Idaho Library Association, testified in opposition. She said librarians do not distribute obscene materials.
“This legislation is intended to coerce libraries into removing constitutionally protected materials at the threat of loss of insurance and costly litigation,” Kennedy said. “Libraries offer materials that represent wide-ranging views, including those that may be controversial or unpopular. There are plenty of books in my library that I find offensive but that’s the beauty of libraries. They have something for everyone.”
Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, pressed Kennedy about a specific book, called “Identical,” that outlined a story of incestuous sexual abuse. Young thought the book “glorified” or “justified” the abuse.
“I would like to know if you believe that kind of material is harmful to a child,” Young asked.
Kennedy said she believed the book talked about the girl’s experiences, rather than glorifying the abuse.
“I do believe that material that describes sexual assault, including the details of sexual assault, can be extremely helpful for a teen who may be going through that themselves and have not spoken with anybody about that,” Kennedy said.
The bill now goes before the full House for consideration.