Governor signs library bill, school facilities ‘trailer’ as session adjourns

A new state law makes school and public libraries liable for lawsuits stemming from books deemed “harmful” for children.

Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday signed House Bill 710, the culmination of years of work by Statehouse Republicans to restrict library material accessible to minors. Little, a Republican, vetoed a similar bill last year.

The signing came on the 94th — and final — day of the 2024 legislative session. The Senate adjourned for the year at 2:42 p.m.; the House followed suit seven minutes later.

Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke gavels an end to the 2024 Legislature. (Photo: Darren Svan/EdNews)

While Little’s end-of-session moves dominated Wednesday’s storyline, some subterfuge swirled around the library bill signing.

On Wednesday morning, Emily Callihan, communications director for the governor’s office, refused to confirm to Idaho Education News that Little had signed the library bill. But Little himself told Idaho Reports that he “signed that stinking library bill.”

According to the governor’s website, Little signed the library bill at 10:04 a.m. Wednesday — 13 minutes before his deadline.

The signature came as lawmakers returned to the Statehouse after a week’s recess. The timing of their return was significant. Little had until 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to act on the bills that reached his desk last week, including the library bill. By returning to session Wednesday, the Legislature reserved the right to override any vetoes, although Little’s two vetoes for the session remained intact.

HB 710 establishes a statewide policy for reviewing library material that could be considered “harmful,” including sexual content, nudity and homosexuality. If a patron challenges a book under those terms, library officials have 60 days to remove or relocate it, after which the patron can file a lawsuit. If a court considers the material “harmful” to minors, the library would face a $250 statutory fine along with potential civil damages.

Republicans in the House and Senate overwhelmingly supported the bill. But library officials vehemently opposed the legislation — and others like it — to eclipse local authority over book challenges.

“We are so disappointed in this outcome,” a Wednesday tweet from the Idaho Library Association said. “Please check on your librarians.”

The latest bill mostly overcame Little’s anxieties about a similar bill last year that would have enacted $2,500 statutory fines for libraries. Little vetoed the bill over concern that it would create a “library bounty system,” which could force libraries to “close to minors altogether.”

In a Wednesday letter to the House, Little said HB 710 “addresses most, but not all,” of his concerns with the former legislation. The new bill reduces the potential fines and “allows a fair opportunity for local libraries to avoid legal action and fees.” It also “tightens the definition of what is considered ‘harmful to minors.'”

The Idaho Republican Party last year censured the governor for vetoing the previous bill.

For Republicans in the Legislature — including GOP leadership, who had vowed to get a libraries bill passed this session — Little’s signature marks the end of a three-year campaign. Democrats, meanwhile, decried Wednesday’s news.

“Anything short of a veto is cold comfort,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, at a postsession news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The new law goes into effect July 1.

‘We did have a good year’

Minutes after the final gavel dropped on the 2024 legislative session, House Republicans hailed the finished product.

“We did have a good year,” said House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, during a postsession news conference. “We got a lot done.”

Not surprisingly, Moyle listed the sweeping school facilities law as the “centerpiece” of the session. Moyle was one of the architects of the 30-page House Bill 521, which represents a $1.5 billion state investment in facilities. The law also cuts income tax rates — and should produce property tax relief, Moyle said, as the state takes on school building projects that have historically fallen to local bonds and levies.

HB 521 passed overwhelmingly, but some lawmakers complained about its broad scope. Moyle acknowledged the pushback Wednesday, but said the positives of the bill outweighed the negatives.

“Sometimes when you have big bills like that, there’s always one little thing to complain about,” Moyle said.

Republican leaders also said they managed to thread the needle on school funding, plugging a hole from the 2023 session.

Lawmakers agreed to send out $145 million to schools, money that had been on hold for a year, partly because the state shifted its school funding model from a formula based on enrollment to one based on smaller student attendance figures. And despite a drop in student numbers — a reduction of 696 classroom support units, translating to 13,000 students statewide — the Legislature still increased school spending by 3.9%. “That’s a big deal,” said House Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Meridian.

At their own news conference later Wednesday afternoon, Democrats touted victories of their own.

While Democrats hold less than a fifth of the seats in the Legislature, Democrats delivered key votes that saved the Idaho Launch postsecondary grants program and the higher education budget, said Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise. Democrats also helped defeat a $50 million bill that would have diverted public money into tax credits for private school.

HB 521 divided Democrats, and on Wednesday, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking expressed mixed feelings. She said the facilities bill was “hijacked” into an omnibus bill that lawmakers will need to fix in subsequent sessions.

“We plugged our nose and voted for a little bit of good with a lot of bad,” said Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.

Little signs facilities funding ‘trailer’ bill

While the wait on the libraries bill drew considerable attention this week, Little quietly signed another education-related bill Monday.

It was a followup to the blockbuster school facilities funding bill, House Bill 521.

The “trailer” bill, in Statehouse parlance, eases language in HB 521 that sought to discourage school districts from switching to four-day school weeks. Rather than minimum contact days, districts will be required to meet minimum hours, which are already mandated by the state.

House Bill 766 also allows the Senate to confirm future executive directors of the State Board of Education. And it fixes a glitch from last year’s property tax relief law, to ensure that charter schools receive facilities funding totaling $400 per student.

Transportation bill becomes law 

In non-education news, Little allowed a controversial Idaho Transportation Department budget bill to become law without his signature Wednesday, another final step on the path to adjournment.

The budget also blocks the sale of the ITD’s State Street campus, a bone of contention in the final days of the session. “It unfairly cancels an agreed-upon sales process, causing future repuational risk for the state of Idaho,” Little said in a Wednesday transmittal letter to House Speaker Mike Moyle.

More reading: What passed, and what didn’t pass? An in-depth review of a session dominated by education issues.

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Ryan Suppe and Kevin Richert

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business. Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism.

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