BOISE - Saying pornography has “permeated our society,” the Idaho House voted 63-7 Monday to require the state’s libraries to filter Internet access for adults.
Federal law already requires libraries that receive federal funds to filter Internet access for children, and most Idaho libraries do. But when it comes to adults, some do and some don’t.
State Librarian Ann Joslin said at least one Idaho library district held a public hearing on the issue, “and heard very clearly from their adult residents that they did not want filtered Internet access on the adult computers.” The bill would no longer let local library boards make that decision.
“We certainly have some serious concerns about it,” Joslin said.
Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said a group called “Citizens for Decency” brought the idea to him. “As a result, I’ve done a lot of personal research into this topic,” he told the House. “My personal research has convinced me that pornography poses one of the greatest destructive forces … on the youth.”
Under the bill, HB 205, local library boards could set their own policies for whether adults doing “legitimate research” could request to have the filtering turned off or not.
Shirley acknowledged that librarians opposed the bill and raised concerns including costs and the 1st Amendment, but he said others supported it. At one small Idaho library, he said, “Big lumberjacks would come in from out in the timber and get into material they shouldn’t, and there’d be youths sitting right next to them.” That small library now has a free Internet filter program, he said, which solved the problem.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who was among those voting against the bill, said, “Those libraries in the communities have boards, and I think they’re capable of deciding what’s appropriate for the culture of their community and how to get it done.” She said, “I think we should be into the problem-solving mode when we’re down here, and not looking for things that reflect our values and maybe not somebody else’s.”
Idaho libraries currently have a variety of ways that they regulate Internet use. At the state’s largest city library in Boise, adult patrons specify whether they want filtered access or not, and that choice is encoded into their library cards and kicks in automatically whey they use the Internet at the library; staff also polices on-site use and people accessing inappropriate images are asked to leave.
Shirley said 25 other states have enacted legislation on school or library Internet filtering, but Joslin said her figures show only 17 of those affect libraries, and of those, 12 simply require libraries to have policies and procedures in place. “They don’t require that libraries filter all of their public-access machines,” she said. “Idaho’s is definitely at the extreme end of limiting access to the Internet.”
Joslin said Idaho libraries have found that less-expensive filters tend to block more legitimate material, from research on breast cancer to images that aren’t objectionable. “Filters really can’t tell the difference between sand dunes and human flesh,” she said.
The Idaho Library Association offered to work with the bill’s sponsors to make the measure more workable for Idaho libraries, but was rebuffed.
Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, told the House that pornography pervades our nation, as a result of Supreme Court decisions starting in 1925 and “the handmaiden of the Supreme Court, the ACLU.” He said, “Now the sewers have been opened and pornography has flooded the entire country. And all of this was done without really taking children into the equation.”
Bateman said “just one powerful exposure” to pornography can “devastate the life of the child.” He said, “It’s so permeated our society you can’t avoid it. It’s been thrust upon us, it’s everywhere.” He urged support for the bill.
The measure now moves to the Senate.