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House Republicans tank library commission budget

An aisle in a library surrounding by shelves of books on each side.
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House Republicans torpedoed the budget for the Idaho Commission for Libraries Thursday afternoon. That’s due to frustrations with the Senate blocking a controversial bill that would criminalize librarians who lend “harmful materials” to minors.

Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) referred to House Bill 666 as “mischief” in a press conference with reporters earlier this month.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) said she stands by comments she made in debating that previous bill: She would rather teach children critical race theory than let them see pornography – which isn’t being distributed through libraries.

“Pornography destroys a family. And then when the family is destroyed, you destroy the community. When the community is destroyed, you destroy the nation,” Ehardt said.

Local school boards and library boards oversee what’s put on their shelves – not the state commission. But that argument fell flat for a majority of lawmakers.

“We must be vigilant in keeping these harmful images from our children,” said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle).

Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) also supports House Bill 666. But she told her colleagues these are two separate issues.

“A vote for this bill in no way condones the distribution of obscene or pornographic materials,” Horman said.

The budget for the Idaho Commission for Libraries has ping-ponged between the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) and the House floor over the past several days.

The third version, which House Republicans sunk Thursday, cut $307,000. The money would’ve funded audiobooks and e-books for K-12 students.

“The revised budget already punished Idaho students, reducing their access to books so that House GOP legislators could make a political statement,” said Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea (D-Boise).

In introducing the budget, Horman said she spoke with the commission’s director and lawmakers’ concerns seriously.

“She acknowledged the shortcomings in the policy and the absence of a lever there for obscene materials that should’ve been in the policy,” Horman said.

The director, she said, volunteered to rewrite the commission’s collections policy and conducted an internal audit using a list of books Horman gave her that legislators found harmful to minors.

“She voluntarily did this because she recognized the gap,” Horman said.

House Republicans still narrowly killed the budget 36-33.

A few minutes afterwards, Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon (R-Burley) said a previously planned JFAC meeting Thursday afternoon would be rescheduled for Friday morning so leadership in the two chambers could hold further negotiations.

Lawmakers had hoped to adjourn for the year Friday – the 75th legislative day.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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