27. March 2024 · Comments Off on Steve Hobbs For Secretary of State, March 27, 2024 · Categories: Elections

By Steve Hobbs
Special to The Seattle Times

In 2023, Dayton Memorial Library in Columbia County was on the verge of becoming the first library in the nation to dissolve due to aggravated community members calling books authored by LGBTQ + individuals “obscene” and “upsetting.”

For many residents across the state, local libraries serve as places of learning, after-school hangouts, community meetings, a resource for free technology access or shelter from the weather. But as treasured as these cornerstones of Washington communities might be, some of the residents who rely most upon them found that they were virtually powerless when a handful of activists made a political attack on the library’s very existence.

That’s why I’m grateful that the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee have enacted Senate Bill 5824, which empowers more people to participate in the governance of the libraries in their own communities.

Under a law that had not been updated in more than 40 years, not every library patron could have a say if their library remains open, even if their taxes fund the library. If an aggrieved constituent could collect 100 taxpayer signatures — or 10% of jurisdiction voters — on a petition, they could create a ballot measure to dissolve that library, and only voters who reside in unincorporated areas of the jurisdiction could participate. Senate Bill 5824 increases the petitioning threshold to 25% of eligible taxpayers in the district and expands voting eligibility to include all qualified library district residents.

We continue to monitor threats to library service throughout the state, including book bans and reshelving requests. Rural libraries, especially, were at risk of dissolving because in a district with a small population, it would have taken only a few activists to meet the qualifying threshold.

Washington’s 60 public library systems have at least 349 branches, including Dayton Library, and 24 bookmobiles providing free collections, Wi-Fi, and programs to every county in the state. In 2022, the state’s public libraries received more than 17 million visits. Patrons checked out materials more than 73 million times and attended more than 37,000 library programs. They used nearly 6,000 free public computers more than 2 million times and free public Wi-Fi more than 8 million times.

I am proud that SB 5824 will protect libraries as critical resources for their communities. Furthermore, election laws should serve every eligible community member equally so each voice can be heard.

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