Idaho Librarians Speak Out Against Resurrected Library Materials Legislation

Thirty individuals, comprising library personnel, board members, and library users, provided testimony both in person and virtually during a Senate State Affairs Committee session on Wednesday morning to share their views on the most recent library legislation put forth by the Legislature – House Bill 710.

Despite this, the committee refrained from voting on any measures related to the bill due to time constraints. The committee chair, Senator Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, noted that discussions on the bill will be continued at a later date.

If the committee were to vote favorably, the bill would advance to the Senate floor, bringing it one step closer to enactment after receiving approval from the Idaho House of Representatives last week with a vote of 47-23.

House Bill 710 represents a modified version of a previous bill introduced earlier in the year. The bill adheres to Idaho’s current definition of materials that are deemed harmful to minors, which includes “any act of … homosexuality” within its definition of sexual conduct.

Under this bill, libraries would be mandated to have a procedure in place for individuals to request a review of materials. Additionally, the bill empowers county prosecutors or the attorney general to pursue injunctive relief against schools or public libraries found to be in violation of laws regulating the availability of materials classified as harmful to minors.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, expressed her confidence in the bill’s efficacy.

“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 stated.

House Bill 710 stood as the solitary piece of legislation on the committee’s agenda on Wednesday morning, with public testimonies consuming almost the entirety of the two-hour allotted time for the committee.

The majority of librarians who offered testimony voiced sentiments that the legislation was convoluted, unnecessary, and detrimental to their profession. Many highlighted that this year marks the third consecutive year that they have had to provide opposing testimonies to library bills, expressing discontent that the bill singles out the LGBTQ+ community in its definition of materials harmful to minors.

Megan Cafferty, a librarian from Meridian, emphasized her apprehension regarding the financial burdens that this bill may impose on Idaho libraries, pointing out that the $250 fine for damages would disproportionately impact smaller libraries. She further noted that mandating an adults-only section would pose challenges for libraries with limited resources and space.

“Currently we are having issues even retaining our current staff because we can’t compete with the rising cost of living,” Cafferty remarked. “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-based librarian and the legislative co-chair for the Idaho Librarian Association, shared her experiences of facing obstacles in her career due to library-related legislation. Despite encountering challenges, she underscored the numerous positive interactions she has 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,” Shaltry recounted. “This is what we do. This is what I was trained to do.”

Grace Howat, a representative from the conservative organization Idaho Family Policy Center, stood as the sole individual to speak in favor of the legislation. During her testimony, she expressed the policy center’s enthusiasm for supporting the bill as a means of safeguarding children.

Recap of library bills during 2024 session

House Bill 710 was introduced to the Legislature subsequent to the Idaho Senate rejecting Senate Bill 1289, which was a blend of prior legislation brought forth by Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, and Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home.

At least four bills have been presented to the Idaho Legislature aimed at regulating library materials intended for minors, including

House Bill 384, which proposed allowing library patrons to litigate against libraries if they provide “harmful materials” to minors. It also suggested a policy requiring community members to submit a written notice requesting the relocation of a library item they deem “harmful” to an adults-only section. Failure to relocate the item within 30 days could result in a lawsuit against the library for $250, alongside potential damages and legal relief.Senate Bill 1221, which sought to mandate school boards to establish a “library materials review committee,” comprising parents, educators, and administrators, to review requests for reevaluating school library items, as reported by the Idaho Capital Sun. However, this bill did not progress to a hearing.Senate Bill 1289, which, as per bill sponsors, encompassed aspects of House Bill 384 and Senate Bill 1221. Nonetheless, it failed to move forward, as previously reported by the Sun.House Bill 710, an amended version of House Bill 384.

While some Republican legislators prioritize regulations governing library materials, a survey conducted by Boise State University revealed that a majority of Idahoans trust library staff with book selections. According to the university’s ninth annual Idaho Public Policy Survey, 69% of respondents expressed trust in library staff for book selection, while 23% indicated otherwise.

Concluding the committee hearing on Monday, Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, addressed the librarians present, some of whom had traveled from Idaho Falls, Ketchum, and locations 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 assured. “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.”

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