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Idaho House passes bill opening libraries to civil lawsuits over "harmful" books

The Idaho Capitol building at dawn
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A bill that would allow parents to sue libraries that lend “harmful” material to their children without prior permission is headed to the Senate.

House lawmakers signed off on the measure 40-30, with a few Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it.

Those families who successfully sue could earn $2,500 per violation in civil court. It would apply to community libraries, as well as those in K-12 schools both public and private.

Rep. Tony Wisniewski (R-Post Falls) said some of the books in his local library system are vile.

“If any one of you would show that to your children or grandchildren, you’re sexually abusing them,” Wisniewski said.

He didn’t say which books he’s referring to.

Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) agreed with him. She repeated a point she made during the bill’s public hearing last week.

Young mentioned a book depicting a father sexually abusing his daughter. To her, that’s completely inappropriate for a minor to read and doesn’t agree that these books can be helpful to those who’ve experienced sexual assault.

“That, I believe, is a form of sexual abuse of children,” she said.

Materials that have been repeatedly referred to during committee hearings and other debates over the past year largely include LGBTQ themes or are sexual education books.

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 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.”

“Private schools can’t have books of two dudes kissing or doing anything that homosexuals do? Come on,” said Rep. Chris Mathias (D-Boise).

Outside of those definitions, the legislation includes “any other material harmful to minors,” which concerned several lawmakers as being too broad.

Rep. Jerald Raymond (R-Menan) said he’s counseled people who’ve struggled with pornography addiction at his church.

Not one of them were exposed to porn at their local library, Raymond said.

While he said he’d like to “go after” the authors of these books or producers of controversial movies, Raymond said he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution that protects them.

Instead, “I think that the bad books that we’ve talked about need to be on shelves and collect dust. I think the good books need to be dog-eared and be read many, many times,” he said.

Rep. Lori McCann (R-Lewiston) also accused the sponsor, Rep. Jaron Crane (R-Nampa) of “committee shopping” since a prior version of the bill failed in the House Education Committee.

The latest legislation cleared the House State Affairs Committee last week, which is chaired by Crane’s brother and another of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa).

Several lawmakers objected, resulting in a six-minute meeting behind closed doors with McCann and leaders from both parties.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Legislation that would charge librarians with a misdemeanor for lending these materials to kids passed the House last year, but never got a hearing in the Senate.

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. If you have a tip, please get in touch!