BOISE — A bill that could open school, museum and library employees to a maximum fine of $1,000 and one year in prison for “disseminating material harmful to minors” easily passed Monday by the ‘Idaho House.
Bill 666 would remove an exemption in state law that protects museums, public libraries and schools from being sued for such dissemination, making it a criminal offense to disseminate such materials to children. This would apply to K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
A more than hour-long debate featured high voices, impassioned denunciations of pornography and back-and-forth between lawmakers lawyers, mostly taking place along partisan lines.
“For many years, as a parent, I have been concerned about the obscene and pornographic material that finds its way into our schools and public libraries,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, noting that she believes the trend was “inadvertent”.
Rep. Steve Berch called it, “I’m not for pornography. I do not support pornography in libraries,” but condemned the bill twice.
“The America that I grew up in, and was born in, and … that I love doesn’t write bills and doesn’t create laws that throw librarians in jail,” said Berch, D- Wooded.
The bill passed the House State Affairs Committee last week over objections from librarians, who said it sought to criminalize them for inadvertently allowing children access to salacious texts. . Parents backed the bill in committee, with many hoping it would prevent their children from encountering books that depict LBGTQ sex and experiences.
No lawmakers suggested LGBTQ texts would be considered “harmful” on Monday, but many questioned which personnel and materials the bill would target.
They weren’t close to a consensus.
What are “harmful materials”?
The bill does not answer this question. But part of the law it is linked to does, DeMordaunt explained.
The legal definition includes a range of materials, from books to films, that depict “human nudity, sexual conduct, or sado-masochistic abuse…harmful to minors.” It also includes narrative accounts of certain sexual activity and “Any other material harmful to minors” in its definition. Materials must be ‘knowingly’ distributed to invoke suits,” noted attorney and Representative Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell.
State law also includes what is not harmful to minors: material that “possesses serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to minors, according to prevailing standards in the adult community, with respect to concerns what is suitable for minors”.
But the bill still leaves an ambiguity in that definition that puts librarians “unconstitutionally” at risk, said House Minority Leader and attorney Ilana Rubel.
“Criminal laws must be clear. You need to send a bright red line to the public to know when they are breaking the law and when they are not. And you really can’t be mushy about it without violating due process and (the) Constitution,” said Rubel, D-Boise.
But Chaney argued that a 1973 Supreme Court case provides a “backstop” for enforcement, helping to delineate what is and is not constitutional regulation of free speech — and in turn, limiting the cases in which Idaho librarians and teachers could be sued.
“Justice Potter (Stewart) (of the United States Supreme Court) said, ‘I can’t define pornography for you, but I recognize it when I see it.’ Well, I think that’s one of those situations,” Chaney said.
But not all librarians will know when case law protects them and doesn’t, Rubel countered.
“It is very unfair to our librarians and educators to be asked to operate in a world where they have absolutely no idea what is legal and what is not and what will land them in jail and of what won’t,” Rubel said.
The “super secret file” and subjectivity
Often cited in the lawmakers’ debate was a dossier of texts and drawings including sexual content that lawmakers and parents said they pulled from public libraries. As made available to House members, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, said some parents or grandparents may use the contents of the ‘super secret file’ to foster ‘healthy discussions’ if a child is old enough. But rep Bruce Skaug said “I can’t ignore” the “lewd” material in it.
“I would rather my six-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than see this stuff once in the public library or somewhere else,” Skaug, R-Nampa, said.
Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, built from the dealership.
“I would rather a child learn (critical race theory) than be exposed to sexuality and sexual content,” she said.
One of the texts parents and lawmakers included in the filing was from a best-selling sex-ed book, Deputy Minority Leader Lauren Necochea said, illustrating divisions over what parents consider appropriate. to children.
“It gets to the heart of the subjectivity of it all,” she said.
Librarians argued in committee that lawmakers’ concerns about the “super secret file” would not go away with the bill. Notably, the bill would not prohibit “harmful materials” – however defined – from remaining on library shelves. It would simply prevent employees from “broadcasting” them.
Other sticking points
Once a court determines whether “harmful material” was distributed, who would be prosecuted?
It remains unclear. Neither Bill nor his sponsors have clearly identified who would take the hit. This goes for teachers and school administrators, museum curators and tour guides, and other positions.
The ambiguity on this issue has caused some controversy, as has a litter of other arguments.
Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, expressed another concern that minors who attend colleges and universities before they turn 18 could be exposed to ‘harmful materials’ in higher education courses dealing with the body. and sexuality. But moderates ultimately voted for the bill, which passed almost along party lines.
Only Representatives Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls and Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, crossed the aisle and voted against the bill.