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Idaho House kills library commission budget, Gov. Little kills IT budget as adjournment draws near

Idaho State Capitol - 2021
Otto Kitsinger
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Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The budget holdups add uncertainty to adjournment, but legislators may work quickly for solutions

The Idaho House of Representatives was on the cusp of adjournment Thursday, when more than half of the House voted to kill the budget for the Idaho Commission on Libraries — one of the last pieces of legislation left in the queue this session.

Shortly thereafter, Gov. Brad Little vetoed Senate Bill 1400, the budget for the Office of Information Technology Services. Taken together, those two developments inject uncertainty into what was supposed to be the second-to-last day of the 2022 legislative session.

The first sign of trouble was a long debate Thursday afternoon about obscene materials and pornography in libraries. The Idaho House killed the third version of the 2023 budget for the Idaho Commission on Libraries, House Bill 824. The bill failed 33-36.

The bill included $11.2 million in total funding, including $4.5 million in state general fund spending and $6.7 million in federal funding. Legislative budget writers already cut $307,000 for ebooks that was included in the original budget bill, House Bill 784, after legislators said some of the materials in the ebooks were inappropriate and accessible to children through their school libraries.

Nevertheless, the budget bill for the Commission on Libraries reignited the debate over obscenity in libraries and sharply divided the Idaho House. Earlier this year, the House passed House Bill 666, which removed an exemption that protected libraries, schools, colleges and universities from prosecution for distributing material that is “harmful to minors.”

The materials that legislators and concerned parents have cited as obscene and harmful to minors include books that have LGBTQ+ characters or are part of sex education.

That bill has yet to be taken up in the Idaho Senate, but House members used the debate over the Commission on Libraries budget to double down on public libraries.

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, used librarians’ letters and public testimony against House Bill 666 in her budget debate. She said members of the Idaho Library Association made “false and misleading claims” about House Bill 666.

“When you see those comments you will see a marked lack of humility, a lack of measured reason and no indication of appreciation for what it means to be a state funded facility placed in a position of responsibility with the opportunity to influence a child,” Young said.

“I find this conduct to not only be unprofessional and unacceptable, but I find it to be unfundable,” Young added.

Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, immediately called Young’s debate problematic, saying she was using librarians and their professional associations’ public testimony on a different bill to argue against their budget.

“One way of looking at what was just said (by Young) was: If we want to do something to you as a Legislature, and you have the audacity … to say something in response, to defend yourself, to rally your members and ask them to engage their legislators, then look out, because here we come. We will cut your funding. We will make it sound like you are defending this horrible practice, which they are not,” Ruchti said on the House floor.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, also said it was wrong to attack libraries for public testimony. Chaney said that, while he supported House Bill 666, it was a complicated bill and people shouldn’t be attacked for opposing it.

“I think that crushing voices of dissent would be what we would be doing by voting down this budget,” Chaney said in floor debate.

“I don’t think that just because somebody had a different opinion means that they were unprofessional,” Chaney added.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, countered by saying the Legislature should have a say in the policy of a commission that receives $11 million in funding from the state and federal government.

Rep. Wendy Horman, the Idaho Falls Republican who sponsored the budget bill, said a vote to support the budget is in no way a vote to support distributing obscene material to children.

But in the end, the bill failed 33-36.

Idaho governor issues second veto of the 2022 session

Gov. Brad Little issued his second veto of the session on Thursday, putting the spike to Senate Bill 1400, the nearly $17 million budget for the Office of Information Technology Services. The vast majority of the budget, $15.3 million, comes in federal funding, which is combined with about $1.7 million in state general fund money.

In a transmittal letter accompanying the veto, Little wrote that his issue was not with the budget but with the so-called intent language attached to the bill. The language in section four of the bill said the Office of Information Technology Services may not use its funding to expand services to other state agencies unless there has been an assessment of the state’s IT vulnerabilities and a technical audit.

“The intent language in section 4 is overly restrictive and hamstrings the state’s ability to effectively respond to present and emerging threats,” Little wrote.

Little’s concerns, and the fact the Office of Information Technology Services budget passed the Idaho House and Idaho Senate unanimously, may give the Legislature options. Legislators could redraft the budget and remove the intent language, or they could attempt to override the veto and move on. It takes two-thirds of the members of both legislative chambers to override a veto, should the Legislature go that route.

Idaho Legislature may still be able to adjourn Friday

It wasn’t immediately clear how the budget setbacks will affect adjournment. Legislative leaders have been working to adjourn the session Friday. But the state is obligated to set the state budget before adjourning for the year.

The budget setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is likely to meet Friday and could take up a rewritten budget for the Commission on Libraries at that time.

At any rate, legislators do have the ability to suspend rules and work quickly at the end of the session. In past sessions, bills have been introduced and passed both the Idaho House and the Idaho Senate during the same day.

Before adjourning Thursday, the Idaho House cleared its calendar of all but about seven bills. Fixing the Commission on Libraries and Office of Information Technology Services budgets will likely require adding two more bills to that list.

The Idaho House is scheduled to reconvene on the House floor at 9:30 a.m. Friday and could be in a position to adjourn for the year before the end of the day. Friday will be the 75th day of the legislative session, which gaveled in on Jan. 10.