Idaho Gov. Brad Little vetoed a bill Wednesday afternoon that would have prohibited libraries and schools from promoting or giving out materials that are “harmful to minors.”
House Bill 314a would have allowed a parent or legal guardian to sue a school or library for $2,500 in statutory damages if their child were to access visual or reading materials that depict nudity, “sexual conduct” or content that is “harmful to minors.” This included pictures, books, sculptures, films, magazines or sound recordings.
The bill passed both chambers of the Idaho Legislature with a 42-26 vote in the House of Representatives and 26-9 vote in the Senate. Republican legislators in support of the bill previously said it would protect children from obscene materials and pornography that they allege has been found in Idaho libraries and schools.
In a transmittal letter, Little said he supports local and school libraries, and he has made it a priority to invest in literacy throughout his time in office. He said libraries are critical to literacy in Idaho youth.
“The ability to read is fundamental to a child’s success,” he said in the letter. “Many of our fondest memories as children are venturing down to our local library and immersing ourselves in the sea of books and knowledge.”
Governor points to costly fines and ambiguous ‘harmful materials’ language
Opponents of the bill said the legislation targets materials that depict LGBTQ+ characters and sex education materials, and the language in the bill referring to “any other material harmful to minors” is broad and ambiguous, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.
In his letter, Little said the bill makes “sweeping, blanket assumptions” that would have unintended consequences for Idaho libraries and their patrons.
“Allowing any parent, regardless of intention, to collect $2,500 in automatic fines creates a library bounty system” that would be costly for libraries, especially those in rural Idaho, he wrote.
Little said that although he supports the bill’s intent, to protect Idaho’s children, he thinks minors have easy access to “harmful content” on their phones and the internet, “not at their libraries,” he wrote.
One of the groups behind the bill, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, responded with disbelief.
“We are dismayed and outraged that Little would choose to betray children and families like this, choosing instead to give in to the pressure from the special interests that have been all too eager to expose children to harmful materials,” IFF President Wayne Hoffman said in a statement the organization sent out Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Library Association greeted the veto with “heartfelt thanks” and “sincere appreciation,” ILA President Lance McGrath said in a statement Wednesday.
The bill “would have severely limited the ability of libraries to serve their communities and provide the resources and information people need,” McGrath said.
“This bill as law would fundamentally change library services with regard to minors and would imperil our statutory obligation of providing access to information for all the people of Idaho,” he said in the statement. “We are grateful that Governor Little recognized the importance of libraries and their role in promoting intellectual freedom and chose to protect them from this harmful legislation.”
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