Idaho Librarians Testify in Opposition to Revived Library Materials Bill

House Bill 710 is the latest legislation to regulate library materials for minors.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon listens to proceedings on the Idaho Senate floor on Jan. 9, 2023. “We won’t take any further testimony,” Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon said during a Wednesday Senate State Affairs Committee hearing for House Bill 710. “I would like to continue this at the call of the chair at which point we will allow Sen. Carlson to close, and then we’ll allow the committee for discussion and potential motions or path forward…That’s how we’ll proceed I think to adequately vet this in the committee discussion part of it.” (Otto Kitsinger/Idaho Capital Sun)

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Thirty people, including library staff, board members and patrons testified in person and virtually at a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday morning to voice their opinions on the Legislature’s most recent library bill — House Bill 710.

However, the committee did not vote on any motion related to the bill because of time constraints. Committee chairman Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, said the committee will continue its discussion at a later time.

An affirmative vote in the committee would secure the bill a spot on the Senate floor, making the bill one step closer to becoming law after it passed the Idaho House of Representatives last week in a 47-23 vote.

House Bill 710 is an amended version of a previous bill introduced earlier this year. The bill would rely on Idaho’s existing definition of materials harmful to minors, which includes “any act of … homosexuality” under its definition of sexual conduct.

It would require libraries to have a form for people to request review of materials. The bill grants county prosecuting attorneys or the attorney general the authority to seek injunctive relief against schools or public libraries found violating the law on promoting, giving, or making available material deemed harmful to minors.

Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, the sponsor of the bill, said she believes the bill is a great solution.

“Parents and citizens of the state of Idaho and the rest of the country are angry and want access to this harmful material to children be removed,” she said.

House Bill 710 was the only piece of legislation on the committee’s agenda Wednesday morning, and public testimony took nearly all two hours of the committee’s allotted time.

Most of the librarians who testified said the legislation is confusing, unnecessary and demoralizing to their professions. Many said this year marks the third year they have had to testify in opposition to a library bill, and they expressed frustration that the bill is targeting the LGBTQ+ community under its definition of materials harmful to minors.

Megan Cafferty, a Meridian librarian, said her main concern was the costs that this bill would create for Idaho libraries, noting that the $250 fine in damages would disproportionately hurt small libraries, and requiring an adults-only section would create challenges for libraries with limited staff and space in their building.

“Currently we are having issues even retaining our current staff because we can’t compete with the rising cost of living,” she said. “We can’t afford to live in the city where we work. I personally can’t have a studio apartment and afford to eat in Meridian, so we definitely can’t afford to remodel and add all of these extra costs.”

Huda Shaltry, a Boise librarian and the legislative co-chair for the Idaho Librarian Association, said that library-related legislation has created challenges in her career. But for each negative encounter, she said she experiences hundreds of positive interactions with library patrons.

“Every week somebody has thanked me for the existence of libraries and what we do and the resources that we provide the tech support, the printing, helping people find a home or escape their domestic violence situation,” she said. “This is what we do. This is what I was trained to do.”

Grace Howat, a representative for the conservative organization, Idaho Family Policy Center, was the only person to testify in favor of the legislation. In her testimony, she said the policy center is excited to support the bill as it would protect children.

Recap of library bills during 2024 session

House Bill 710 was brought to the Legislature after the Idaho Senate rejected Senate Bill 1289, a combination of previous legislation brought by Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, and Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home.

At least four bills have been brought to the Idaho Legislature to regulate library materials for minors, including

House Bill 384, which would have allowed library patrons to sue libraries if they provide “harmful materials” to minors. It would have also created a policy that requires community members fill out a written notice asking libraries to relocate a library item that they deem “harmful” to an adult’s only section. If a library failed to relocate the item within 30 days, then one could have sued the library for $250, as well as “actual damages and any other relief.” Senate Bill 1221, which would have required school boards establish a “library materials review committee,” or a group of parents, educators and administrators who review requests for reconsideration of school library items, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. It did not advance to a hearing.Senate Bill 1289, which according to bill sponsors, combined House Bill 384 and Senate Bill 1221. It died in a 18-17 vote in the Senate, the Sun previously reported. House Bill 710, an amended version of House Bill 384.

While regulating library materials is at the top of the agenda for some Republican legislators, a Boise State University survey showed that most Idahoans trust library staff with book selection. According to the university’s ninth annual Idaho Public Policy Survey, 69% of respondents said they trust library staff with book selection, while 23% of Idahoans said they do not trust libraries and library staff.

At the end of the committee hearing Monday, Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, addressed the librarians in the room, some of whom came from Idaho Falls, Ketchum and across the Treasure Valley.

“Please don’t think this is out of disrespect to any of you as librarians, any of you as teachers,” Winder said. “That’s not what this is about. We’ve got parents that have concerns we’re trying to deal with, and remember, our Constitution is set up to protect the minority, not the majority.”

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: info@idahocapitalsun.com. Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

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