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No veto this year: Little signs Idaho library bill to allow lawsuits over ‘harmful’ books

The new law allows patrons to sue libraries if they do not relocate books they deem to be “harmful.” | file photo
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Librarians in Idaho could soon face lawsuits over books on the shelves deemed “harmful” to children after Gov. Brad Little signed a controversial bill into law Wednesday.
House Bill 710 allows library patrons to sue if staff members don’t relocate or remove a cited book or other media 60 days after a patron has submitted a written removal request. The standards for removal are based on Idaho’s obscenity law, which identifies sexual material that appeals “to the prurient interest of minors as judged by the average person,” and that depict sexual activity “patently offensive to the prevailing standards in the adult community.”
Sexual conduct includes homosexuality, nudity and masturbation, according to the obscenity law that dates from the 1970s.
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Idaho’s Republican lawmakers have tried for years to pass a law restricting access to library books, including a failed proposal in 2022 that would have allowed librarians to be jailed.
The governor told a reporter for Idaho Public Television late Wednesday morning that he “signed that stinking library bill.”
The Idaho Family Policy Center, a conservative think tank, and the Idaho Library Association released statements that Little had signed the bill.
Little vetoed a similar bill last year, arguing that it would create a bounty system. That earlier bill allowed patrons who sue to receive $2,500 in statutory damages if they won a lawsuit, plus additional damages. The new bill allows for $250, plus other possible damages. The bill initially had a 30-day timeline before lawsuits, but was amended to 60 days in the Senate.
Little wrote in a Wednesday letter to lawmakers that the bill addresses “most, but not all” of his concerns because it reduced the statutory damages amount, allows a 60-day delay and “tightens” the definition of what is harmful to minors.
“I share the cosponsors’ desire to keep truly inappropriate library materials out of the hands of minors,” Little wrote, but he noted that the greater threat to children is pornography they can access online. Last month, Little signed House Bill 498, which makes internet publishers liable for allowing children to access “harmful” material.
“However, I was disappointed the legislature passed up an opportunity to advance meaningful legislation to truly protect children from the harms of social media,” he wrote.
The library bill, sponsored by Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, was the fourth iteration of such legislation this year, as lawmakers hotly debated whether there are materials “harmful” to minors in Idaho libraries, or whether the bill would rather censor free expression and limit access to books that discuss LGBTQ+ themes.
Dozens of people testified against the bill, arguing that it will make it harder for children to explore new ideas or questions they may have about sexuality.
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”Reading is not the same as smoking,” Jenny Emery Davidson, the director of the Community Library in Ketchum, told a House committee last month in response to a question from a lawmaker about whether the government has a role in keeping children from drinking or smoking. “Books are not the same as a bottle of tequila unless you believe that the altered bodily state that you are concerned about is thinking,” Davidson said.
The bill was opposed by the Idaho Library Association and many librarians.
“Censorship laws proposed in recent years do not address an actual problem that exists in our libraries,” the association said in a statement on its website about censorship laws, “but are intended to create a chilling effect that will cause libraries to remove materials that some find objectionable in order to avoid the threat of costly litigation.”
Christian conservatives have argued that libraries have books with sexual themes that are inappropriate to children.
Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center, said children’s access to erotic materials is a “widespread issue” in a opinion article published this month in the Statesman.
“We just think it’s fair for parents to expect that taxpayer-funded schools and libraries should be safe places for their children to make use of books, services and programs,” Conzatti wrote.
Crane previously declined to tell the Statesman whether he thinks discussion of homosexual themes is obscene.
Some proponents of the law have made claims about children being “conditioned” for sex trafficking through library books — claims that are linked to conspiracy theories, according to previous Statesman reporting.
The post No veto this year: Little signs Idaho library bill to allow lawsuits over ‘harmful’ books appeared first on East Idaho News.

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