Idaho has advanced legislation that could see the likes of librarians and teachers jailed over materials considered “harmful to minors”.
House Bill 666 (HB 666) was passed by the state’s House of Representatives on 7 March by a vote of 51-14.
The proposed legislation 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.’”
However, it does not state what is considered dangerous to young people, leaving a lot of room for interpretation.
During a public hearing on HB 666 last week, many of the books cited as “harmful” examples by those supporting the legislation included LGBTQ+ themes and characters, such as Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, among others.
Should the bill be signed into law, the penalty suggested is up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R), HB 666’s sponsor, claimed that an array of obscene material has found its way into libraries where it can be found by children.
“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 stated. “There needs to be more vigilance, period.”
Rep. Ilana Rubel (D), Minority Leader of the Idaho House of Representatives, noted that the text of the bill is vague and does not offer clear guidance or protection to those it would affect.
“How in the world is any librarian facing potential criminal sanctions going to know,” Rubel explained.
“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.”
The bill was opposed by every Democrat in Idaho’s House of Representatives, with all but two Republicans present voting in favour of it.
Rep. Bruce Skaug (R) said he would rather see his “6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than get a view of this stuff one time at the public library or anywhere else.”
HB 666 now heads to the state’s Republican-controlled Senate and, if passed, it will move on to the desk of Gov. Brad Little who can either veto it or sign it into law.