By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would prohibit libraries from distributing what legislators define as “obscene” materials.
House Bill 314, brought by Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, is the second version of the bill the House has seen this year.
After more than two hours of debate, the bill passed in 40-30 vote. Much of the debate focused on pornography, rather than controversial books distributed in libraries.
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.
Legislators in opposition took issue with some of the vague language such as “any other material harmful to minors.” Under the definition of “sexual conduct,” the bill also includes depictions of homosexuality.
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, asked whether that could include an image of two men kissing, and said the clause was especially troubling for gay children in Idaho.
“To send that message to them that it is so dirty to even see two men holding hands, to even hear about two men going on a date, that’s it’s not even allowed to be distributed to a children and is banned from the libraries, I found profoundly disturbing and frankly more harmful to children, sending that message,” Rubel said.
Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Nampa, said she thought the bill was an overreach and could put public libraries at risk of continual litigation.
“To me, this bill is a red flag for our First Amendment and for the right for parents to parent,” Yamamoto said. “I would ask that you consider that someone could be totally in favor of not having pornography and obscenity in the hands of little people, but not be in favor of how this bill proposes to fix it.”
Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen, R-Idaho Falls, also voted against the bill.
“We have good librarians working hard across this state,” Mickelsen said. “This bill is a direct assault to those librarians.”
Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, argued there was a problem the legislature needs to address, and they needed to stop pornography from getting in the hands of children. He focused on the fact that taxpayers fund libraries.
“Is there bad books in the libraries? Yep. Are they in kids’ sections? Yep,” Monks said. “Disgusting stuff that should not be looked at by anybody.”
Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, repeatedly defended the bill, saying it targets what is “patently offensive to the adult community,” something that billboards and newspapers are already required to comply with.
Multiple legislators pointed to Idaho Code 18-1515, a law which makes it a crime to disseminate obscene materials to a child. The code has an exemption for libraries and is generally applicable to people attempting to sexually abuse children.
Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, said he listened to one of the books that was given to a junior in high school and he considered it X Rated.
“If you have to be 18 to go into a rated R movie, why do you get a book that’s like a rated X movie?” Mitchell said.
Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, pointed out the first version of the bill came through House Education Committee and died, but H 314 went through State Affairs, a more favorable committee. McCann called it “committee shopping,” but was gaveled down after multiple objections about impugning motives.
McCann argued that some high schoolers, ages 16 and 17, should have access to some of these books, pointing to “Romeo and Juliet” as an example that could be considered “obscene.”
“We’re confusing the issue between our very small elementary children and our high school kids,” McCann said.
The bill now heads to the Senate.