Idaho Legislature passes bill requiring Idaho libraries move ‘harmful materials’ - East Idaho News

Idaho Legislature passes bill requiring Idaho libraries move ‘harmful materials’

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BOISE (Idaho Capital Sun) — A bill to require Idaho public and school libraries to move materials deemed harmful to children, or face lawsuits, passed the Idaho Senate and House on Wednesday.

House Bill 710, backed by Republican legislative leaders, follows years of attempts by the Idaho Legislature to regulate materials deemed harmful to children in Idaho libraries. 

The bill now goes to Idaho Gov. Brad Little for final consideration.

House Bill 710 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 60 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.

Some librarians have called the bill unneeded, telling lawmakers in a House committee this year that local library relocation policies handle community complaints, while others worried it would strain libraries.

Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, said if harmful material isn’t in libraries, relocating material shouldn’t be difficult or cause libraries to close.

“There is no book banning. This codifies a relocation policy that is fair. This process is fair for both sides of the issue,” Carlson said. “Harmful materials is already in (Idaho) Code. We are actually taking away language from the Code to clear up the possibility of legal challenge.”

The Idaho Senate passed the bill on a 24-11 vote on Wednesday. 

Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian, said the issue boils down to liability that libraries would face under the bill. 

“I believe that the language that we’ve used in this bill — although with great and good intent — will cause greater problems for our libraries than they solve,” said Bernt, who said he voted for previous library bills in the Legislature.

Most Idahoans — 69% — trust library staff with book selection, while 23% of Idahoans do not, according to this year’s Idaho Public Policy Survey. More than half of Idaho librarians are considering leaving library work as a result of library-related legislation, according to an informal survey conducted by the Idaho Library Association.

Libraries could seek additional relocation policies. But some worry bill ‘invites mischief and grift.’ 

Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, said libraries could adopt policies restricting the ability of people to complain.

“What I think’s important to remember here is that the person who’s going to complain about a work is going to have to at least see, repeated on the form, this standard,” Schroeder said.

But some lawmakers worried the bill could prompt frivolous complaints.

Sen. Mary Shea, substituting for Sen. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said the bill “invites mischief and grift.”

“It would be very easy to put a book you don’t like in the wrong place in the library just to file a lawsuit about it,” Shea said.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said she disagreed that “what we are doing isn’t going to potentially incite activism.”

Some lawmakers doubted that the bill would be onerous for libraries to comply with. 

“If we had that much material that we had to renovate buildings or spend a lot of tax dollars,” said Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld, R-Twin Falls,  “then we have a bigger problem.”

Sen. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, said she felt like the bill was a mandate for libraries, and doesn’t help them to make adult areas inaccessible. 

The Senate late last month amended the bill to extend the deadline to move materials from 30 to 60 days, and to require libraries to have a relocation policy.  

The Idaho House, after a tense debate, passed the original version of House Bill 710 last month. The Idaho House passed the amended bill on a 45-24 vote Wednesday.

What would the bill do?

In 2022, a bill that critics said could lead to librarians being prosecuted for checking out materials deemed harmful to minors passed the Idaho House, but did not advance in the Idaho Senate. And last year, Idaho Gov. Brad Little vetoed a bill that would have allowed parents to sue libraries or schools for up to $2,500 in statutory damages if they provided “harmful materials” to minors.

House Bill 710 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 add a definition of schools that includes “any public and private school” that provides K-12 instruction.

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 into law, the bill would take effect July 1, 2024.