State Affairs advances two more bills on ‘harmful’ materials in libraries
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Senate State Affairs Committee advanced two more library restriction bills on Friday morning, despite testimony from one library trustee saying that the bill could cause his library to rescind all library cards to minors to avoid legal liability.
Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, sponsored both bills. The committee sent S 1187 to the Senate’s amending order to potentially remove the language that includes university and college libraries.
The bill would require each library to establish a citizens’ review committee to advise the board of trustees. Members of the review committee would include 5 members of the public, including parents of minors who attend the institution. Other members of a library review board would include one representative who is a member of the local law enforcement agency’s sex crimes unit or has experience handling such cases, one member of the religious community, and library patrons. The board would be advisory only, and the members would be appointed, not elected.
The bill also provides an affirmative defense for libraries that distribute materials harmful to minors, including if librarians had reason to believe the child was 18 or older. If they don’t already have policies on how to avoid distributing harmful materials, the bill requires libraries to adopt them by Aug. 1.
Under Winder’s bill, disseminating material harmful to a minor would be a misdemeanor crime punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The committee heard testimony on that bill Thursday. On Friday, the committee advanced the bill with two members, Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, voting against the bill. It now heads to the full Senate for amendments.
SB 1188 also passed out of committee, but will go to the amending order to remove university and college libraries from the language, as those libraries are largely used by adults, not minors.
Winder said the legislation helps implement another bill on “obscene” materials and establish a procedure for injunctive relief in the courts. That bill passed the House earlier this week.
Winder’s bill would allow courts to respond quickly to enjoin the library materials in question and to give a quick hearing on whether it is indeed obscene or not. Under the bill, a prosecuting attorney could request injunctive relief in district court within one day of acting on the allegation, and the court would render a decision within two days of the trial’s conclusion.
Jeff Kohler, a trustee of the Meridian Library District, testified in opposition to the bill, expressing concern that “harmful to minors” was not clearly defined. He pointed to books like romance novels or “To Kill A Mocking Bird,” which talks about rape, or “The Great Gatsby,” which talks about adultery.
Wintrow asked Kohler what he would do if the bill passed.
“In all likelihood, if this law and some of the other laws before the Legislature this year were to pass, my recommendation to my fellow board members would be that we immediately rescind all library cards for minors, 0-17, (and) we cancel those cards,” Kohler said. “And then pass a policy that minors cannot enter the library unaccompanied by their parents to enter the library. We cannot risk the legal liability.”
The legislative debates concerning library materials come as a number of local library districts have faced similar complaints over content. Earlier this week, Ada County Commissioners heard testimony on a petition to dissolve the Meridian Library District over those concerns.
Lynn Laird of Meridian testified in favor of the bill, noting that there are policies in place with local library trustees, but she didn’t believe they are ineffective and “running up against a brick wall.”
Lance McGrath, president of the Idaho Libraries Association, testified in opposition to the bill, as he has with every library restriction bill this year. He called the bill draconian government overreach.
Again, the only members of the committee to vote against advancing the bill were Wintrow and Ruchti. Before the vote, Ruchti commented that people have a right to be heard, but they don’t have a right to get what they want from the library board.
That bill now heads to the Senate for possible amendments.