Another session, another library bill

By Representative Steve Berch

Steve BerchWe’re only seven days into the 2024 legislative session and we’re already seeing bills to ban masks, accelerate charter schools, allow concealed firearms on college campuses, make it even more difficult to terminate a pregnancy due to rape or incest, impede child protection services from doing their job, and a slew of other bills that no one is asking for when I visit voters at their door.

Meanwhile, the process for setting the state budget has been abruptly altered in a way that could help ensure only the projects desired by a handful of legislative leaders actually get funded.

It’s too early to report on these (and other) bills; most of the activity is still a work in process and nothing has yet to come up for a vote in either the House or Senate.

But one bill – yet another library bill (H384) – will be coming up for a vote on the floor of the House in a few days. It is a slightly revised version of a library bill (H314) that passed the legislature last year but was vetoed by the governor (whose veto was sustained by only one vote).

And along with this new version of last year’s failed bill, a new onslaught of propaganda on social media about “porn” in libraries has begun.

I will write more about this in an upcoming newsletter, but I thought now would be good time to reprise the op-ed I wrote about this issue on March 27, 2023:

The real obscenity

Last month, 68 Republican legislators told 1,939,033 Idahoans what they can’t read in libraries.

That’s how many of them voted for House Bill 314, which empowers Attorney General Raul Labrador to prosecute and punish every public and private school library for anything on the shelf that he decides is “harmful to minors.”

And don’t think he won’t do it. Labrador has already issued dozens of subpoenas to “investigate” childcare organizations that accepted federal funding. This bill puts libraries in the crosshairs of another political fishing expeditions.

Make no mistake about it. This issue is not about pornography in libraries. It is about using legal intimidation to advance divisive “culture wars” for political gain and control, especially within the majority party. Even though Governor Little vetoed the bill, it will be back next year.

Two years ago, “porn” in libraries wasn’t even a thing. Library boards staffed by good, honest citizens were doing their job as they always did – and continue to do. No one was afraid to let their kids go to the library. Suddenly obscene material in libraries is now a crisis of monumental proportions.

The real obscenity isn’t porn, it’s propaganda.

For example, if one person says the sun revolves around the Earth, they are a kook. If 100,000 people repeat it over and over again, people may think it’s true. After all, “Look where the sun is in the morning and then at dusk. Who are you going to believe, some elitist ‘astronomy expert’ or your own eyes?!”

In the case of “porn” in libraries: “Who are you going to believe, the “woke media” or these pictures my friend said he found in a library book?”

Of the thousands of people sending emails to legislators, almost none of them personally found real “porn” in a library. They are genuinely outraged by what they’re being told, but nearly all these emails repeat what others are saying.

Some people have truly found content in a library book that they sincerely find offensive. However, there’s a big difference between pornography found in an adult bookstore and a library book about same-sex marriage (which is legal) or gender dysphoria (which is real). When it all gets labeled simply as “porn” the facts get blurred and the outrage grows way out of proportion.

Laws should be based on fact – not hearsay, rumor, conjecture, anecdote, or innuendo. I support the conservative principle that government is best when it’s closest to the people. That’s why we have elected local library boards, or boards appointed by elected officials.

The Legislature needs to let them do their job.

Library boards should be allowed to determine the facts via a local process that facilitates documented complaints. Anyone who claims to have found inappropriate material in the children’s section of a library should submit a formal, signed complaint that specifies the date, time and location of what they personally observed.

Citizens should go on the record – not on social media – to register their grievances.

Library boards should welcome this input and be expected to respond to a documented complaint. Constituents should let their legislators know if the library board refused to acknowledge their written complaint.

But that doesn’t mean every complaint is agreed to and acted upon. No one individual should expect to have the power to force all of their personal moral standards on every other citizen in their community.

And neither should the Idaho Legislature do the same to every library in the state.