Kyle Pfannestiel

(Idaho Capital Sun) After largely negative public testimony, Idaho legislators advanced a bill Monday that would require public and school libraries to create a review process and to restrict children’s access to harmful materials following complaints.

The Idaho Senate is set to consider Senate Bill 1289, cosponsored by Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home. The bill would allow people to sue Idaho libraries for allegedly exposing children to “harmful materials” after a new review reporting process that the legislation outlines.

The bill would rely on Idaho’s existing legal definition of harmful materials, which defines sexual conduct as including homosexuality.

Public testimony at Monday’s hearing was largely critical of the bill, including from representatives of two conservative think tanks.

The bill is “a solution in search of a problem,” said Boise Public Library Director Jessica Dorr, but she said it does provide a path forward to local libraries to provide access to a diverse range of materials. Dorr said the library was neutral toward the bill.

The bill mirrors processes already in place in most Idaho libraries, Idaho Library Association lobbyist Sarah Bettwieser told the committee. The group also doesn’t oppose the bill, but Bettwieser said it is still concerned.

“After years of trying to get at this issue, this is about as good as it’s going to get for all involved,” Bettwieser said.

Idaho Senate Committee advances library harmful material bill to full Senate

Co-sponsor Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, had said the bill is not a compromise — it is a combination of previous proposed legislation and House Bill 384, a bill that Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, previously proposed. Schroeder previously said the main difference between his previously proposed legislation and the new bill is that the new bill would require patrons follow procedures outlined in the bill before they could sue a library.

The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee voted 6-3 to send the bill to the full Senate and recommend that it pass. The committee’s two Democrats voted against advancing the bill, along with Sen. Ben Toews, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Before the vote, Toews said his family is spending less time in their local library after his child found a book that he didn’t feel was safe for children. Toews said he later found it again on the library’s shelf after asking librarians to put it behind the counter.

He praised Schroeder’s efforts on the bill. But, “I think we’ve successfully found a compromise that virtually everyone opposes,” Toews said.

Sen. Treg Bernt, R-Meridian, said “95% of this bill makes sense,” but he opposes the bill’s private right of action — allowing lawsuits against libraries. Bernt, who voted to advance the bill to the Senate, said he may vote differently on the floor.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said protecting children means protecting all kids. She recalled how she wasn’t taught what sexuality meant growing up in an evangelical household. When she got to college, she said she didn’t even know how her body worked.

“That is scary. Because I had other people — boys — telling me how it works, and I should trust them. That was my first lesson as a young adult, that it’s so important to provide information,” Wintrow said.

The bill now heads to the full Idaho Senate for possible debate.

If the full Senate passes the bill, that would pave the way for another committee hearing with public testimony before the full Idaho House considers it.

New bill would create reporting, review process for ‘harmful materials’ claims

If a patron finds a child has access to an item previously deemed “harmful to minors” under a decision from the committee or board, they could sue a library for $250 in statutory damages as well as actual damages and other other relief.

The bill would require Idaho libraries to establish a “Materials Review Committee” with at least three people who live in the school or library district, and contain at least one parent of a minor. Libraries must also, under the bill, provide a relocation form for patrons who believe materials are harmful to minors. Patrons who file such a form would be entitled to a public hearing by the committee.

Libraries would also be required to provide at least one week public notice for the hearing in a newspaper.

The review committee, under the bill, would provide an explanation in writing about the decision of the material. Patrons can appeal committee decisions to the library or school board of trustees.

Meridian Library District Trustee Jeff Kohler said he was wary about the review committee requirement. People who have paid attention to the “culture war” in recent years, he said, “would think twice” before getting involved in the committee. Megan Larsen, chair of Meridian Library District’s board of trustees, said it’s also unclear how review committees should determine community standards that the bill says would be used to assess whether materials should be moved.

“The legal risk to the library is significant, and it is a lose-lose situation,” Larsen said.

Schroeder in the hearing defended critiques to the bill’s implementation, saying libraries can group requests for hearings together and discern community standards through testimony at those hearings.

Idaho Family Policy Center Policy Assistant Grace Howat said the center looks forward to supporting the bill if crucial amendments were made. Idaho Freedom Foundation President Ron Nate, who opposed the bill, said the bill creates a ”complicated and arduous process” for parents. Brian Almon, a conservative blogger who is also trustee for the Eagle Library board, supported the bill.

“This is perhaps the most workable policy that we’ve seen come forward during the legislative session,” said Kathy Griesmyer, government affairs director for the city of Boise, which she said was neutral on the bill.

Opponents argue library bill isn’t needed, and could cause harm

Meridian Library District Director Nick Grove said his community supports libraries, referencing the failed petition to dissolve the library district last year.

“This is not what your communities are asking for. This might be what people show up in your office and shove in your face … one page of a book. But this is not what your community is asking for,” Grove said.

Heather Stout, a retired librarian from North Idaho, also said the bill isn’t needed. It’s fair for parents to take issue with subjects in the library, she said, but they can’t parent other people’s kids. And allowing fines for librarians will only “intensify the exodus” of Idaho librarians, she said.

“This bill seems to be responding to an entirely politically-manufactured crisis that was both created by and will now be solved by legislators with little or no concern for the reality of what’s happened in these important public institutions,” said West Ada School District Education Association President Zachary Borman.

“Idaho libraries and librarians are not OK. In the midst of waging war against books, the shelves of our library have become the battlefield. Our patrons must not become the casualties,” said Dorajo Messerly, a children’s librarian in Soda Springs.