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Sheriff scopes out explicit library books

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | September 27, 2023 1:07 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said he has heard from both sides about reportedly inappropriate materials available to youth at local libraries.

One side argued unsuitable reading materials were there and shouldn't be.

The other argued that if they were in the libraries, it was up to parents to monitor their kids and determine what was OK for them to read.

"Quite honestly, I didn’t know who to believe," Norris said Tuesday.

Clark Albritton, a candidate seeking election to the Coeur d’Alene City Council, said during a forum Monday that Norris “went to the public library today with a camera and exposed what is in children’s books.”

The sheriff said he did visit some libraries, but not the library in Coeur d’Alene, and not on Monday.

Earlier this year, in April, Norris went to the Post Falls Public Library twice and the Hayden Public Library once. One time he brought along a video camera.

"I wanted to see for myself what was going on," he said.

Norris said he assumed that sexually explicit material would be an area only accessible to those over the age of 18.

"That was not the case," he said.

At the Post Falls library, he said a book, "Deal with it! A whole new approach to your body, brain and life as a gurl," by Esther Drill, Heather McDonald and Rebecca Odes, was available in the young adults section.

Another book, "Identical" by Ellen Hopkins, was also in the young adults section.

Norris said, in his opinion, both books, which he had in his office Tuesday, contain sexually explicit material.

"I was a little bit shocked with the explicit text that I saw," he said. "I won't want my 15-year-old to read this book."

In his 30-minute library visits, he said he found other books with text he considered inappropriate.

Both libraries are members of the Community Library Network. According to the CLN website, young adult material is for ages 16 to 18.

Norris supported legislation last year that he said would have resolved the situation, but it was vetoed by Gov. Brad Little.

According to the Idaho Capital Sun, House Bill 314a would have allowed a parent or legal guardian to sue a school or library for $2,500 in statutory damages if their child were to access visual or reading materials that depict nudity, “sexual conduct” or content that is “harmful to minors.” This included pictures, books, sculptures, films, magazines or sound recordings.

The bill passed the House with a 42-26 vote and the Senate by a 26-9 vote.

"Republican legislators in support of the bill previously said it would protect children from obscene materials and pornography that they allege has been found in Idaho libraries and schools," the Capital Sun reported.

In a letter, Little said the bill made “sweeping, blanket assumptions” that would have unintended consequences for Idaho libraries and their patrons.

“Allowing any parent, regardless of intention, to collect $2,500 in automatic fines creates a library bounty system” that would be costly for libraries, especially those in rural Idaho, he wrote, as reported by the Capital Sun.

Norris said he believes it is an important subject to a lot of people.

He said no one is asking to ban books, but he believes books with explicit, sexual content should be in an area only accessible to those 18 or older.

Norris said if a youth read sexually explicit material, they could decide to experiment with it with a relative, friend or neighbor.

If that came to the attention of the sheriff’s office, he said they may investigate "if there is a criminal dynamic to people who expose young children to this type of material."

"I want to make it clear, this is not about sexual health or reproductive information. In my opinion, this goes beyond that," he said.

Norris said he didn't know if he would conduct further library visits to check on what type of books are available to youth.

"I'm thinking about it," he said.

Asked for his response for those who would argue it's for parents to talk with their kids about what they read and decide what's appropriate, Norris said he equates it to providing children with alcohol or drugs.

He believes allowing youth to read sexually explicit material is putting them at risk.

"You’re desensitizing them to a very, very critical area of growth," he said.

He said there are laws protecting the most vulnerable - children and the elderly.

"I would hope we don’t have parents who are exposing their children to pornography," he said.

He said if legislation similar to House Bill 314a comes up again this year, he would support it.

"We have laws that protect children for their well being and this certainly fits with that," he said. "Absolutely it does."

While some would also argue the sheriff is getting involved in an area where he has no authority, Norris disagrees.

"We have protections on children. There would be criminal dynamics and certainly an investigation if we believe a child is in an unfit environment that would expose them" to pornography, he said.

When asked if he would be returning "Deal with it! A whole new approach to your body, brain and life as a gurl" and "Identical," to the CLN, Norris said no.

"I’ll buy them before I return them," he said.

The Post Falls Public Library on Tuesday had one copy of "Identical" available.

It does not have any copies of "Deal with it!" The last copy was checked out and due back in May, but never returned.