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Idaho Senate GOP offers new restrictions for 'obscene' library books

Idaho Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Top Senate Republicans are pushing two new bills that would limit what books and materials libraries could lend to minors.

The proposals from Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) would create a new citizens’ advisory board for public and school libraries to develop policies to keep these materials out of the hands of minors.

The group would include one person from a local law enforcement’s sex crimes unit, a religious leader, parents and community members.

It would recommend policies to a library’s board of trustees, as well as review concerns from citizens.

The second measure would allow prosecutors to sue libraries if they do lend these books to kids. They would also have the ability to seize the materials and destroy them.

Jeff Kohler, an elected trustee for the embattled Meridian Library District who was testifying in his own capacity Friday, suggests supporters of these types of legislation are being disingenuous.

“Library opponents keep saying that they don’t want to ban or burn books, but seized and destroy sounds exactly like book burning to me,” Kohler said.

Should these bills pass, he said he would recommend the library immediately revoke all library cards for those under 18 to avoid possible litigation.

Winder said he previously “pooh-poohed” the idea that there are “harmful” materials in public libraries. But he said he changed his mind when he recently attended his grandchild’s birthday party and a mother showed him a book she found objectionable.

Winder didn’t mention which book she shared, or what it contained.

“It wasn’t about baseball at all,’ he said. “It was age-inappropriate for what was in there.”

Winder said librarians aren’t listening to the concerns of parents who think some books on shelves are “pornographic” or “obscene.”

“We can all kind of hide our head a little bit and say there isn’t a problem, but I think a lot of its communication between the community and those boards,” he said.

Industry groups for libraries, as well as several librarians themselves, have repeatedly testified this session that these books that are being challenged aren’t legally considered “obscene.”

Some include sexual education materials that feature nude drawings. Other books describe or depict sex acts that are intended for teens.

“Things are different in our libraries today than when any of us grew up,” said Winder. “Something’s different.”

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) points out that a lot of these challenged books are about being gay or transgender.

“None of these are pornographic. None of these are obscenity. These are about ideas and differences from mainstream culture.”

To Senate Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti (D-Pocatello), “Minors are not the problem here, it’s the adults.”

“We have people who just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer and this legislature won’t tell them ‘No,’” Ruchti said.

Minors, he said, aren’t the “snowflakes they’re being projected as.”

“It’s not going to bring them to a pile of tears and an inability to function. They’re going to be okay. This is life.”

Both bills now head to the Senate floor for amendments that would exempt college and university libraries from these proposals.

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!

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