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5th time's a charm: Idaho legislature passes library commission budget

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

After Republicans blew up multiple versions of the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ budget Friday, House lawmakers passed a spending plan on the fifth attempt in a late-night vote.

State senators eventually followed suit, though both chambers chose to recess for five days to wait out any potential vetoes from Gov. Brad Little. An attempt by House Democrats to adjourn for the year failed.

At issue was the belief that libraries across Idaho made “obscene” and “harmful” materials available to minors, including books that describe masturbation, other sexual acts and promote LGBTQ acceptance.

The proposal cut $3.5 million in federal funding that would’ve built out rooms at rural libraries so residents could get medical care via telehealth. Another $307,000 for audio and e-books for K-12 students was cut earlier this week.

“It would appear to me that we are removing this $3.5 million from this budget because a group of people spoke up advocating for their jobs and advocating for their communities and advocating for the people that live in their towns,” said Rep. Ned Burns (D-Bellevue).

Republicans objected to that claim, saying their Democratic colleagues were impugning their motives.

On Thursday, Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) shared an email from the Idaho Libraries Association from March 2.

Young said it contained “a number of false and misleading claims about the content and potential effects” of House Bill 666 – a proposal that would’ve made it a misdemeanor for librarians to lend any material deemed “harmful” to children.

She argued the bill, which was blocked by the Senate, explicitly defined what materials would be defined as “harmful.”

While state law outlines pornography and descriptions of sexual acts as obscene, it also gives wide latitude for further interpretation by including “any other material harmful to minors.”

“This is conduct that is unprofessional, it is disingenuous, and in my mind, it is unacceptable,” Young said of the email Thursday.

Republicans continued to object to Democrats’ warnings of setting a vindictive precedent against groups who speak out against politicians in power.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) said her caucus members’ debates aren’t conjecture.

“This is literally a recap of what was spoken out loud and what happened on the floor,” Rubel said.

“It was really made quite explicit in this body that the numbers that are in this bill are there as punishment for those who exercise their First Amendment right to seek redress from their government,” she said.

It’s unclear what changed the minds of several Republicans who had objected to the cuts and voted down a prior version of the budget just hours before. None explained why they flipped their votes.

As part of an attempt at a deal, the House established an interim committee earlier in the day to investigate these materials through the rest of 2022.

In the language of the resolution establishing the committee, it states the legislature has long considered “materials harmful to minors” “a contributing factor to crime and juvenile crime and is also a basic factor in impairing the ethical and moral development of our youth.”

The Idaho Library Association and the Idaho Commission for Libraries will each have a seat on the committee with House lawmakers.

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle) pushed for the resolution, as well as the original bill to repeal the criminal exemption for librarians.

DeMordaunt said the committee won’t be just another bureaucratic attempt to solve what she sees as a widespread problem.

“We have the opportunity to shine further light on this issue,” she said.

But far-right lawmakers said they were conflicted about what they viewed as an effort to “kick the can down the road” when it comes to exorcizing “smut” from Idaho’s libraries.

Rep. Karey Hanks (R-St. Anthony) said she worries we’re losing our children to “evil.”

“We’re not talking about libraries, in my humble opinion,” said Hanks. “We are talking about our youth – our children and our grandchildren.”

Just two Republicans joined Democrats in opposing House Bill 666, but it was a much tighter votewhen the House torpedoed the commission’s budget Thursday.

Only a handful of lawmakers stood up to oppose the resolution. Rep. James Ruchti (D-Pocatello) said there are not “obscene materials” all over Idaho libraries.

“You might be able to find one or two examples that might make some members of our communities uncomfortable, but this is a false narrative,” said Ruchti. “False, absolutely false.”

Last year, far-right lawmakers in the House also held up budgets over unsubstantiated allegations K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, were indoctrinating students with critical race theory.

Lawmakers will return at 11 a.m. March 31.

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.

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