Idaho is advancing legislation that could result in jail time and fines for librarians, teachers, museum creators, even college employees for allowing minors to check out materials deemed obscene, including books with LGBTQ+ content — and is likely to make librarians afraid to carry certain books.
The House of Representatives Monday approved House Bill 666 by a vote of 51-14, the Idaho Capital Sun reports, and it now goes to the state’s Senate. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, would amend existing law to “remove an exemption that protects libraries, schools, museums, colleges and universities and their employees for ‘disseminating material that is harmful to minors,’” according to the paper.
The law doesn’t define what is harmful to minors, leaving room for much interpretation. The penalty for violation is up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, the Idaho Statesman notes.
At a public hearing on the bill last week, most of the examples of “harmful” literature cited by its supporters were those with LGBTQ+ characters and themes, such as Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.
“But where other states seek to remove these books from school libraries, DeMordaunt’s bill would subject those who lend them to criminal penalties,” Statesman columnist Bryan Clark writes. “The bill uses legal vagueness as a weapon. The object isn’t simply to ban certain books but to make library workers afraid that any book they loan out could result in charges.”
DeMordaunt said during debate Monday that she wants librarians to be vigilant. “We are simply asking that those that are responsible for the materials in our libraries or in museums or the other places that are listed in this code, are handled sensitively and responsibly,” she said, according to the Capital Sun. “There needs to be more vigilance, period.”
All Democrats opposed the bill and most Republicans supported it. “I would rather my 6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than get a view of this stuff one time at the public library or anywhere else,” said Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug, who also is the sponsor of a bill that would impose up to life in prison for health care workers who provide gender-affirming procedures to minors.
Democrats spoke out against the legal vagueness of the bill and its potential chilling effect. “It is very unfair to our librarians and educators to ask them to operate in a world where they have no idea what is legal and what is not and what will send them to jail and what will not,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel.