By Ruth Brown and Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
Gov. Brad Little has vetoed a controversial libraries bill that would have allowed parents to sue a school or public library over content they deemed “obscene.”
“My main concern is that the bill’s ambiguity will have unintended consequences for Idaho libraries and their patrons,” Little wrote in the Wednesday veto letter. “This legislation makes sweeping, blanket assumptions on materials that could be determined as ‘harmful to minors’ in a local library, and it will force on interpretation of the phrase onto all patrons of the library.”
Little also criticized the civil enforcement mechanism in the bill.
“Allowing any parent, regardless of intention, to collect $2,500 in automatic fines creates a library bounty system that will only increase the costs local libraries incur, particularly rural libraries,” Little said. “These costs will be forced onto property taxpayers of Idaho or cause the libraries to close to minors altogether.”
The vetoed bill would have prohibited librarians from allowing any child to check out obscene materials that are harmful to minors. The term “harmful to minors” was defined as including “descriptions or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse.”
The bill would have applied “contemporary community standards” to determine whether it is “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable material for minors.”
The bill also included depictions of homosexuality under the definition of “sexual conduct.”
Under the bill, a parent could have sued a library for $2,500 if a library didn’t take reasonable measures to prevent a child from checking out such materials. The bill would not have banned any books.
Debates in the Senate and the House pointed to sexual education books, books that discussed sexual assault, or books that discussed transgender people as materials that could come under scrutiny.
In his letter, Little encouraged parents who are concerned about certain materials in libraries to engage with their local library or school board trustees.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in a 40-30 vote the first time and a 42-26 vote the second time, after considering amendments added by the Senate. To overturn the governor’s veto, the House needs a two-thirds majority vote.
The Senate voted 26-9 to pass the amended bill, but they will also need to muster two-thirds of the chamber’s support to overturn the governor’s veto.
The Legislature returns to Boise at 12 p.m. Thursday.
Idaho Reports will have more on the legislation and its civil enforcement mechanism on Friday’s show. Idaho Reports airs Fridays at 8 pm on Idaho Public Television.