Little vetoes controversial library bill

(UPDATED, 6:41 a.m., with comment from Idaho Freedom Foundation.)

Saying the bill would create a “bounty system,” Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday vetoed a bill designed to limit access to harmful materials in school and public libraries.

The veto comes a day before lawmakers reconvene at the Statehouse — which could set the stage for another veto override vote.

House Bill 314 passed both houses last week, although Friday’s House vote margin fell below the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Dubbed the “Children’s School and Library Protection Act,” HB 314 would prohibit libraries from distributing materials that are “harmful to minors.”

In his veto message, issued late Wednesday afternoon, Little cited several recurring criticisms of the bill — points that came up previously in committee and floor debate:

  • While saying he supports the sponsors’ intent — keeping inappropriate materials out of the hands of minors — Little said the bill’s wording was ambiguous. “This legislation makes sweeping, blanket assumptions on materials that could be determined as ‘harmful to minors’ in a local library, and it will force one interpretation of that phrase onto all the patrons of the library,” Little said in a letter to House Speaker Mike Moyle.
  • Little also criticized a clause in the bill that would allow parents to seek a $2,500 fine. “(This) creates a library bounty system that will only increase the costs local libraries incur, particularly rural libraries. These costs will be forced onto property taxpayers of Idaho or cause the libraries to close to minors altogether.”

Idaho Library Association President Lance McGrath praised the veto.

“Idaho schools and public libraries play a vital role in early literacy, reading on grade level, reading for pleasure, and lifelong learning,” McGrath said in a news release. “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.”

Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman said he was “outraged” by Little’s decision.

“This veto is a concession to the same special interests that seem to have a vested interest in putting obscene, graphic, and pornographic material into the hands of children to begin with,” Hoffman said in a statement.

The next word belongs to the Legislature.

Lawmakers recessed on Friday, and scheduled a return to session Thursday — Little’s deadline for acting on all remaining bills passed this year. By recessing and reconvening, lawmakers left themselves the option of trying to override a veto.

Last week, lawmakers did override Little’s veto of a sweeping property tax relief bill. But this doesn’t happen often — last week’s override was the first to occur in Idaho in 16 years.

And the numbers seem to be stacked against another override.

In order to override this veto, the motion would again need the support of two-thirds of House members present for the vote — or 47 yes votes, if all 70 lawmakers cast a vote. Based on Friday’s 42-26 vote, this means at least five House members would have to flip their vote and support an override.

HB 314 passed the Senate by a 26-9 vote Thursday, surpassing the two-thirds threshold.

Convincing House members to flip their vote, and override a veto, could be a tall order. In the case of the property tax bill, every House and Senate member who supported the override had also voted for the bill in the first place. In other words, legislative leaders needed only to convince lawmakers to stand behind their original vote.

Lawmakers are scheduled to convene at noon, and are likely to adjourn for the year on Thursday.

Check back Thursday for coverage from the Statehouse.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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