Idaho House GOP OKs jail sentence for librarians lending ‘obscene’ books

House Republicans overwhelmingly approved criminal charges against librarians who expose minors to “harmful materials.”

The more than hour-long debate focused on what would be considered obscene under the bill.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) tried to ask about a young adult novel by Judy Blume that included themes of masturbation, erections and wet dreams.

But his debate was interrupted by objections. Rubel said it illustrated how subjective the line was.

“I really don’t know I’m standing here,” she said. “How the hell is a librarian facing potential criminal penalties going to know? They absolutely can’t, and I think as a result, it’s absolutely unconstitutionally vague and ambiguous.

Under existing Idaho law, it has been illegal for anyone to sell or expose children to pornography for decades. This law also prohibits descriptions of sexual arousal, as well as “any other material harmful to minors”.

But public libraries, schools and museums have been exempted from complying with this law.

Lawmakers had the opportunity to review documents in a “super secret file” outside the House floor that are allegedly in public libraries.

Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) took offense to these examples.

“I would rather my 6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than see this stuff once in the public library or somewhere else,” Skaug said.

It’s not immediately clear what was in this “super secret file”, although the examples discussed at a public hearing last week largely focused on books featuring LGBTQ characters.

“Yeah, it’s a super secret file and it’s super secret because it’s so disgusting,” Rep. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg) said.

For him, Nate said these criminal charges would only come into play if a librarian or school breached a parent’s trust.

“I would rather a librarian or two feel persecuted or worried than have children feel polluted or damaged because of what is served in schools and libraries,” he said.

Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) agreed, saying, “Free speech is no more important than protecting a child.”

If found guilty, a librarian faces up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Because of that potential, Rep. Steve Berch (D-Boise) said librarians, museum curators and teachers would be filled with dread.

“They would be incentivized to sanitize, to censor lest they be sued, persecuted by groups that don’t like certain content,” Berch said. “This is not the America I grew up in.”

Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) said he was initially “cautious” about the bill’s concept. But existing exclusions in the law for materials that have “serious literary, artistic or scientific value,” Chaney said, gave him reassurance that its use would not be widespread.

“I recognize that five minutes of one of my children getting their hands on a friend’s cell phone is more dangerous than anything this bill will stop,” Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) said.

But Chaney said he saw the legislation as a way to “stem the tide” of potentially obscene materials falling into the hands of children.

“It’s not a call for a book burning in front of the Capitol. It’s reasonable,” he said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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