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Idaho Senate votes to let people sue libraries over 'obscene' books

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Libraries in Idaho are close to being civilly liable if they lend “obscene” materials to anyone under 18 without their parent’s permission. It would apply to all public libraries and those in K-12 schools, regardless of whether they’re public or privately funded.

State senators easily passed the bill Thursday night 26-9.

“It is up to us, Idaho legislators, to protect the kids of Idaho from this garbage,” said Sen. Cindy Carlson (R-Riggins), reading most of her debate from a piece of paper.

The legislation would apply to books, magazines, photos and other materials containing nudity, sexual descriptions or sexual conduct.

Sexual conduct includes “any act … of homosexuality.” Should the prevailing standards of the community in which the library is located consider two men kissing obscene, it would be subject to this bill.

Much of the materials supporters of the measure provided have pointed to contain LGBTQ characters and themes. Others are sexual education books.

Parents whose children were lent these books at a library could sue them and receive $2,500, plus potentially an uncapped amount for any other damages.

Its passage in the Senate caps a year-long campaign by supporters who initially tried to charge librarians with a misdemeanor if they check out these materials to anyone under 18. That bill failed to even get a Senate hearing last year.

But opponents and librarians argue this violates people’s First Amendment rights. These materials aren’t legally obscene, they said.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti (D-Pocatello) said it’s also imposing moral values on others.

“I shouldn’t have to raise my kids according to the standard you’ve set in your home, just like I wouldn’t expect you to raise your kids according to standards I set in my home,” Ruchti said.

Parents, said Senate Minority Caucus Chair Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise), aren’t doing their job if they’re not supervising what their kids are checking out and reading.

House lawmakers will need to agree to technical amendments made to the bill before it goes to Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

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!