Competing library bills fail to make it out of committee

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 5:52 AM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BOISE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Emotions were running high in the House Education Committee on Wednesday after lawmakers decided not to advance two competing library bills out of committee.

HB139 or The Children’s School and Library Protection Act would have allowed parents to sue a library for allowing children to access pornographic material in the library.

The bill intended to require public schools and community libraries to take reasonable steps to restrict children’s access to materials that are “obscene or harmful to minors”. The term “harmful to minors” was in part defined as the representations or description of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, and sadomasochistic abuse. The bill also made references to homosexual acts.

Furthermore, the bill stated that if a school or public library promotes, gives, or makes available obscene material (written, visual, or audio) to a minor a parent could sue a library for up to $10,000 for each violation.

The bill was sponsored by Idaho Family Policy Center president Blaine Conzatti and Republican lawmakers Sen. Cindy Carlson and Rep. Jaron Crane.

Conzatti told the committee that the legislation aims to correct a widespread, statewide problem in Idaho according to a study done by the Idaho Family Policy Center.

“Not every school and not every library distributes smut to kids, but according to our investigation public schools and public libraries in nearly 30 cities throughout the state of Idaho currently make obscenity available to children,” Conzatti said. “That was startling to us when we found that out.”

Post Falls resident Heather Greenman spoke in support of the bill. She said she knows the damage of being exposed to porn at an early age can cause. She told the committee she was “groomed” by porn and in an abusive relationship that resulted in her being sexually assaulted.

Additionally, she said there are hundreds of pornographic books in her local library in the minors’ section. Most are not images. Most are written.

“For 15 months we have asked for them to be removed. Zero books have been removed, “Greenman said.

Fellow Post Falls resident Joseph Greenman showed support for the bill. He said he was a porn addict for 16 years, and he knows many men who are porn addicts trying to get clean.

“One thing we have in common is that we were all exposed to porn at a very young age, whether it was an image, video, or literature,” Greenman said.

Challis resident Sheri Hughes spoke in opposition to the bill. She said personal responsibility is something she grew up with in Idaho. Her parents did not expect the library or the librarian to monitor her behavior or censor her choice of books. That was her parents’ responsibility.

“For this bill to be holding voluntary public library and school boards accountable, through the threat of civil monetary liability, for personal choices that should be monitored by engaged families, is very disturbing,” Hughes said. “No one is forcing anyone to read specific books.”

Additionally, she said she questions if those who testified in the committee about developing a porn addiction from being exposed to obscene material at a young age got that from a school or the public library.

Idaho Library Association president Lance McGarth also spoke in opposition to the bill on Wednesday. He said the bill would not only be prohibitively expensive to implement, but it would also pose a significant threat to 1st Amendment Rights and principles of intellectual freedom that are essential to libraries’ missions.

“The government has a job to protect the rights of all citizens, including minors, but it can not do so by infringing on the fundamental rights of free speech and constitutionally protected information,” McGrath said.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt asked McGarth at what age can minors go to a library by themselves. He said that would be up to the local library policy. Additionally, she asked McGrath if a child can be in the library alone without a parent.

McGrath said, “Last time I checked libraries do not have armed guards at the doors keeping kids out.”

When it came time to debate the bill, Rep. Chris Mathias asked Conzatti why the definition of “sexual conduct” in the bill only refers to homosexuality but not to any act of heterosexuality. Conzatti told Mathias the definition has a list of examples but not an exhaustive list.

“Obscene homosexual acts, obscene heterosexual acts, obscene sex in general, are all under the purview of this definition,” Conzatti said.

Rep. Ron Mendive made a motion to send the bill to the House floor with a “do pass recommendation”, but Rep. Dan Gardner countered that he was concerned the bill was infringing upon freedom of speech and local control, so he made a substitute motion for the bill to be held in committee.

“Some of this stuff that has been passed around today(examples of obscene material) that I read, and it is not any different than what I see in the Bible or To Kill a Mockingbird,” Gardner said

Rep. Greg Lanting supported Gardner’s motion for several reasons. He said he was disturbed that someone had up to four years to file a civil penalty from the date of the incident, under the legislation. Lanting said criminal acts only have a year to file.

Additionally, he was disturbed by the size of the civil penalty.

“10k that might not be a big deal to the Boise Library, but the Filer Middle School that was like four years worth of books, the purchase of new books…It might as well be a million. Lanting said.

Lanting also asked who decides if something is obscene or has literary value.

“Do we have to take everything to a judge to get a final decision,” he said.

Rep. Lance Clow made a motion to send the bill to send the legislation back to be amended after Rep. Dale Hawkins said he would not support the motion to hold the bill in committee.

After listening to committee members’ various motions, Rep. Judy Boyle admonished the committee by telling them she was “appalled”.

“Frankly, I am appalled that there is this type of discussion. There is nothing wrong with this bill,” Boyle said. “Our librarian is a mom. She is extremely careful about what type of books are ordered, but that is not the way it is done at other places. We must protect our children.”

The committee voted to send the bill to the House calendar to be amended, but the motion failed. They then voted to have the bill held in the committee, and that motion passed to the frustration of many committee members.

With the failure of HB139 the House Education Committee made the decision not to advance an alternative library bill out of committee on Wednesday.

HB227 bill sponsor Jack Nelsen said his proposed legislation puts standards in place for public school districts and libraries to adopt policies with members of the public to label and shelf books according to age and grade, and to address concerns about certain materials.

According to the legislation each school board would have until October 1, 2023, to adopt a selection and access policy. The policy needs to be adopted at an open meeting only after the public has had at least one month to consider the proposed policy and provide written comments or testimony at an open meeting. The policy shall be reviewed at least once every three years and may be updated by the board at its discretion, provided that any updated policy must also be adopted at an open meeting after the public has had the opportunity to consider the proposed update and provide written comment or testimony at an open meeting.

Additionally, the legislation, states standards of care would include a prohibition of materials harmful to minors, clearly identified shelving areas for students by age group or grade level, and labels that clearly identify as intended for a specific age group or grade level.

A process would be set up for which the parent or legal guardian of a student may challenge the inclusion of certain materials in the library collection, and a process under which parents or legal guardians of students may restrict their child’s access to certain materials.

Similar standards would be put in place for public libraries under the legislation, but parents and guardians would share responsibility for making sure their children are using the library to access age-appropriate material.

According to the legislation, “The application form shall clearly state and require initialed assent by a parent or legal guardian that the library offers materials for all ages and that by authorizing a minor to have a library card, the parent or guardian acknowledges responsibility for guiding that minor in use of the library and access to materials”.

Nelsen’s bill was considered a “watered-down” version of HB139.

In Nelsen’s bills the term “harmful to minors” primarily pertained to materials that include nudity and sexual acts.

“I’m a local control guy. I have huge faith in local boards to come around,” Nelsen said.

Furthermore, Nelsen said everyone makes a mistake, and the libraries that are responsible fix those mistakes. Additionally, if a community is having a problem with a library board the way to fix it is at the ballot box.

Nelsen’s bill does not have a penalty attached to it, and he told the committee he does not see any way library employees can police children inside the library, so that’s why he thinks the responsibility needs to fall on parents.

Some members of the public vehemently opposed HB227 because it was not as strict as HB139. Some people said libraries have had numerous opportunities to fix the issue over the years and have failed, so why should lawmakers give them another opportunity to fix the problem with a softer bill?

“The last time I saw the theory of appointing the fox to guard the hen house, the hen house ended up empty,” Lyle Johnstone said.” I’m quite appalled at the last bill’s ending, so I certainly hope we can use more wisdom.”

However, others were in support of the legislation. Some said the term “harmful to minors’' is subjective, and community members across the state will likely have differentiating opinions of what is considered obscene material. For that reason many, supporters liked that HB271 had no civil penalty attached to it.

Additionally, supporters liked the idea the legislation offered a more reasonable way of settling complaints.

“It puts control of libraries where they belong in the hands of local libraries and local communities. It sets up a process of collaboration between library workers and community members,” Margret Ellsworth said. “Having sat on both sides of that I love the idea of bringing the librarians’ recommendations and the community members’ together.”

Rep. Gardener made a motion to bring Nelsen’s bill to the House floor with a “do pass recommendation”. Rep. Erhardt made a substitute motion to hold the bill in committee.

“This legislation is certainly one that the library association had input on and helped to write…I just don’t like the fact that it provides protections to librarians. The frustrations that many of our citizens in Idaho have will continue to have,” Erhardt said,

Unable to come to an agreement Rep. Elaine Price made a motion to adjourn. Clow told chairman Julie Yamamoto if they adjourned it would kill the motions, and they could bring the bill back at a later date.

In the end, the motion to adjourn passed.