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Idaho bill to fine, jail librarians appears dead in Senate

UPDATED: Wed., March 9, 2022

By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – The top Republican in the Idaho Senate said Wednesday a House-approved bill to fine librarians $1,000 and send them to jail for a year for checking out material to a minor that could harm them is dead.

“I don’t see it getting a hearing in committee,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder. “I think it’s mischief and something that doesn’t need to happen.”

The House on Monday with no Democratic support approved the measure that backers said will protect children but opponents said is so undefined and subjective as to be unconstitutional.

The bill’s House sponsor during debate on the House floor Monday refused to answer whether a classic young adult novel by Judy Blume that includes masturbation could land a librarian in jail.

House Republicans compiled a “super-secret” folder not considered suitable for viewing on the House floor they said came from public libraries.

“We asked: ‘Where did they get the information?’ ” Winder said. “They’re saying this information is in our libraries. So you ask them specifically, ‘Where did you get this information?’ And you never get a straight answer.”

Specifically, the bill seeks to delete a section of Idaho code that protects schools, colleges, universities, museums, public libraries and employees of those entities from being prosecuted under another section of Idaho law involving giving harmful materials to minors. Idaho law classifies disseminating material harmful to minors a misdemeanor.

The Idaho law explicitly defines as “harmful to minors” various acts, including masturbation.

However, the Idaho law also states the law doesn’t apply to “any matter which, when considered as a whole, and in context in which it is used, possesses serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors, according to prevailing standards in the adult community, with respect to what is suitable for minors.”

Winder said the bill to jail librarians was among a number of bills that likely won’t make it through the Senate.

“I don’t think you’ll see some of the craziness that the House seems to like to do get very far in the Senate,” he said.

Still, Republican Rep. Brent Crane held out hope. He’s the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee where that bill and several others he supports originated and are now in the Senate.

“The folks that brought that (librarian bill) forward made a very clear case that we have a problem here in Idaho, and I’m intrigued that the Senate would not take it up in an attempt to try to correct a glaring problem with our libraries,” he said after learning about Winder’s comments.

In conservative Idaho, Republicans hold super-majorities in both the House and Senate. Republican leaders of the part-time Idaho Legislature are trying to wrap up the session by March 25, and sometimes House and Senate bills are held as bargaining chips as the session winds down.

“It’s this time of session where a lot of things are said,” Crane said. “And then as we get down toward the end of session, somehow those things end up making it on a calendar.”

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