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Latest bill targeting 'obscene' materials in libraries clears House committee

Representative Jaron Crane
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Rep. Jaron Crane (R-Nampa) urges members of the House State Affairs Committee to allow parents to sue libraries who lend "obscene" materials to minors.

The latest attempt to bar libraries from lending materials deemed “harmful” to minors without parental permission cleared a House committee Thursday morning.

Any book, magazine or other material depicting “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse” could be flagged as obscene, depending on a community’s standards.

The bill from Rep. Jaron Crane (R-Nampa) and backed by the far-right Idaho Family Policy Center defines sexual conduct as “any act of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact with a person's clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such person be a female, the breast.”

Should a library lend these materials to minors without parental permission, those families could sue trustees in civil court for $2,500 – down from $10,000 in a previous version of the bill that failed by a single vote in the House Education Committee.

After that defeat, Crane and other sponsors filed down the proposal’s teeth to make it more palatable for some lawmakers, though the Idaho Library Association still opposes it because of the potential civil liability.

“To pass a bill, which ultimately is a law, that doesn’t have any enforcement behind it really is a waste of time,” Crane said.

“When a child is exposed to obscenity, there is real harm that that child suffers and because of that the child and the family is entitled to recover damages for that harm,” said Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center.

Committee members waded through a stack of books and documents depicting nude images and other instances deemed by supporters of the bill to be obscene. Chairman Brent Crane (R-Nampa) excused the committee’s student page to avoid exposing her to those materials.

The first testifier, Chandler Hadraba, a Boise-area Republican Party official, opened a copy of the pornographic magazine “Hustler” and showed committee members nude images. Next to it, Hadraba displayed a book without mentioning its title, saying he obtained it at a local library.

He said it showed two young girls engaged in sex acts.

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

Librarians who testified against the bill said books in their collections don’t meet the legal definition of obscenity.

To them, and their supporters, this whole issue has been one of perception.

“People will want to bring these suits about materials they personally think are harmful that may not be – a book like ‘The Kite Runner,’ for example, which is on many of these lists,” said Bonnie Shuster, a Boise resident.

“The Kite Runner” is a novel about two boys growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan and depicts sexual assault.

Lance McGrath, president of the Idaho Library Association, said it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor what their child checks out and whether it aligns with their personal values. Those values, he said, aren’t universal among library patrons.

Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) asked another librarian, Erin Kennedy, about how a book depicting a father raping his daughter is appropriate.

“As a mother who is the wife of a husband who has worked with victims of sexual abuse and who understands the imaginative power of a child, this material clearly, in my mind, [qualifies as obscene],” Young said.

Young didn’t mention a specific title, though Kennedy asked if it could be “Identical” written by Ellen Hopkins.

“Material that describes sexual assault – including the details of sexual assault – can be extremely helpful for a teen who may be going through that themselves and have not spoken with anybody about it,” Kennedy said.

Ultimately, the bill passed out of committee along party lines. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

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

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

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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