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In Mountain West statehouses, conservative lawmakers push to censor books in schools, libraries

A wide shot of the exterior of the Idaho State Capitol Building. The ground is covered in snow and the sky is blue.
Andy Melton
Flickr Creative Commons
The Idaho State Capitol Building in downtown Boise, Idaho, where conservative lawmakers introduced a bill that would prevent schools and libraries from lending materials to minors that are “harmful.”

Republican lawmakers in some parts of the Mountain West are pushing to limit what books children can access in schools and public libraries.

In Idaho, the House State Affairs Committee recently introduced a bill that would prevent schools and libraries from lending materials to minors that are “harmful.” Sponsored by Republican Rep. Jaron Crane, the bill defines harmful materials as descriptions of nudity, sexual conduct, and “any act” of homosexuality. If a school or library were found to be in violation, they could be sued for $10,000 in statutory damages for each instance.

A bill in Montana would open librarians and teachers up to criminal charges, fines, and even jail time for displaying or spreading “obscene material” to minors. The measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bob Phalen, has passed the House and now moves to the state Senate.

These proposals are aimed at keeping LGBTQ-related books out of children’s hands, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“There’s nothing worse to tell a young person that the books that address your life and your experiences or simply answer your questions about topics like gender identity, sexual orientation, or race, are considered to be inappropriate to read,” Caldwell-Stone said.

In early February, Wyoming lawmakers rejected two bills designed to keep materials deemed obscene out of schools and libraries. Senate File 177 would have opened librarians and teachers up to criminal penalties for distributing obscene material. House Bill 87 would have done the same, as well as changed the definition of child pornography to include cartoons and drawings.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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