Idaho bill allowing parents to sue libraries over ‘harmful’ books heads to governor

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Sarah A. Miller/

Idaho libraries and schools soon could be sued for allowing minors to obtain books, films and other media that depict sexual content deemed “harmful” for kids.

The Legislature on Friday advanced the bill to Gov. Brad Little. The bill would allow the guardian of a child who was able to obtain “harmful” material from a library to claim $2,500 in statutory damages for each instance the material was obtained.

Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said the bill would create age-appropriate separations between library material. It requires that library officials take “reasonable” steps to restrict access of material to minors to avoid liability, according to the legislation.

But opponents said the bill’s definition of “harmful” material is too broad. Parents should be responsible for ensuring their kids don’t access inappropriate content, they said, and the civil “bounty” could be abused.

Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, said Thursday that he supports the intent of the bill, but he opposed the enforcement mechanism.

“My objection to this bill is a $2,500 bounty for a private right of action for what could be construed as an innocent mistake by a librarian or library board,” Schroeder, a prosecuting attorney, told the full Senate.

“Harmful” material, according to the bill, features “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sado-masochistic abuse” when it’s lewd or “patently offensive to prevailing standards” among adults.

“Sexual conduct” under the law includes depictions of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse and physical contact with genitals and female breasts.

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said there’s no pornography in libraries and highlighted the reference to “homosexuality” in content that would be considered “harmful.”

“There are people that are trying to ban books with LGBTQ themes,” Wintrow told the Senate. “I think that’s what this is about.”

Madison Hardy, spokesperson for Little, said the governor’s office does not comment on pending legislation.

Bill resurrected after rejection

Earlier this month, members of the House Education Committee rejected a previous version of the bill, citing the severity of the damages — which initially were $10,000 — among other reasons.

Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, who chairs the education committee, told the full House on Friday that a recent decision by the Ada County Board of Commissioners demonstrates how conflicts over books should be handled. The commissioners rejected a petition to dissolve the Meridian Library District by people who objected to books.

“Does this mean that the Ada County commissioners want pornography or harmful material in the hands of children? Absolutely not,” Yamamoto said Friday. “They listened to thousands of people. ... And they said that one of the possible solutions was the May 16 Meridian library trustee election, and there you go.”

Gregory Taylor, a teacher librarian at Boise’s Hillsdale Junior High School, told the education committee that a librarian’s job is helping people find books relevant to their everyday lives.

“No one standard could ever match all needs and tastes,” Taylor told the committee. “Responsible parents know what their children are reading, and they take the time to make those thoughtful decisions about which books their kids read. Let other families make their own choices.”

After the House Education Committee rejected the first version of the bill, sponsors, Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, and Sen. Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins, crafted new legislation that reduced the penalty.

Instead of going back to the education committee, House GOP leadership directed the new version to the House State Affairs Committee, where it overwhelmingly advanced.