State Affairs Committee attempts to pass bill banning books with ‘obscene content’ in Idaho public libraries

Niamh Brennan | The Arbiter

Public testimony was held at 9 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 15 in the State Affairs Committee for HB 384. The bill, presented by Chairman Jaron Crane from District 12, restricts books with “obscene content” from public and school library collections. 

Residents from Coeur d’Alene to Nampa were at the hearing, and two rooms accommodated overflow for viewing the hearings on a live recording. 

HB 384 line 14 section 18-1514 defines “obscene materials” under categories of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sado-machistic abuse and material that may be harmful to minors. If the bill is passed, minors, (those under 18 years) would not be given, promoted or allowed to read any library material the bill declares obscene, including writing or pictures of acts of masturbation, homosexuality or sexual intercourse. 

The bill is called the “Children’s School and Library Protection Act”.

The bill gives the parent or guardian of any child legal authority to file a cause of action against a library or educational institution that provides their child with obscene materials. The library or educational institution at fault has thirty days to relocate the material to another section of the library for adults. If any obscene material is not moved to the adult section in thirty days, a parent or guardian can sue for $250 in statutory damages. 

This bill is not the first case of book banning in the Treasure Valley. Last year, the West Ada School District removed 10 books from their library, the Kuna School District prohibited 23 books from minors, and in 2022 the Nampa School District banned 24 books from their library. 

The Treasure Valley has clashed with public libraries and the local government about what material should be allowed for minors for several years now. In 2022, HB 666 dealt with restricting library material “harmful to minors,” and so did HB 314 in 2023. 

Pen America stated for 2023 that 56% of books banned across the nation were in the young adult section of the library. 

Testimonials on Monday called into attention the various concerns of the public.

Mary Ruch, former president of the Idaho chapter of The National Reading Association repeated a point several other testimonies opposed to the bill pointed out about parents or guardians being the ultimate decision-makers of what a child should read, not legislative laws. 

“This is not a library problem. It’s a parent problem,” Ruch said. “If a parent does not want their child to read a book, they can take that away from them. You don’t put it in a special room and take it away from everybody else.”  

Isabella Burgess, college student and associate librarian at the Meridian library district spoke on her concern of minors not being able to work at libraries if the bill was signed into law, as well as her concern over the bill text expressing homophobic views.

“If this bill goes into effect, there will be members of our staff who will be legally barred from handling some of our material. From a staffing standpoint, this impact is immediate,” Burgess said. “There’s no justifiable reason for [the] undue burden that this will put on adult staff members.”

Haley Robbins, a teacher from Rigby Idaho said, “I don’t think any library is trying to get harmful materials to any student, but I think that there’s a fear that if this is passed, it’s going to be taken to an extreme and libraries are going to be so scared that we’re not able to get those books out there that are not graphic, they just have an LGTBQ person in them.” 

The majority of testimonies spoke in opposition to the bill, and asked the committee to not pass HB 384.

Through numerous testimonies Vice Chairman Young asked the question, “Do you believe graphic sexual content is harmful to minors?” to several people who opposed HB 384. 

Resident Jackie Davidson in favor of the bill presented the book, “Red Hood” by Elana K. Arnold during her testimony, that she checked out from the public library ! at Cole and Ustick.

 “Red Hood”  is a a YA novel that re-tells the story of little red riding hood. The book contains   themes of sexual assault and “threats to female power”.

 “They’re grooming books and promoting homosexuality and gender dysphoria … this book contains obscene sexual activity and violence and profanity,” she said. 

Michelle Addison from District 3 in favor of the bill, Idaho librarian and board trustee said, “I support this bill because children are frequently being harmed and corrupted, sometimes permanently by materials in our schools and libraries… regarding libraries promoting prostitution, pedophilia and bestiality to children.” 

Idaho Public Libraries rely on internal systems of choosing collections and materials. The Ninth Annual Idaho Public Policy Survey for 2024 found that 69% of Idahoans trust their public libraries to choose the books made available to them. 

Both of these testimonies were in favor of HB 384. 

More testimonies described the work it would take to relocate “obscene” books into the adult section, how library budgets cannot handle lawsuits and the fact that the bill classifies homosexuality as obscene.

Multiple testimonials also claimed the harm sexual topics can do to children through stealing away innocence, sending the wrong messages to teens and promoting dangerous ideas.

The committee republicans voted the bill for a due pass, but whether or not the bill passes and is signed into law, Idaho’s public remains divided.

The bill has been filed for a third reading, and has been sent back to the state affairs committee. 

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