The first few months of the 2013 state legislative sessions have shown promising proposals moving towards comprehensive sex education in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, and South Carolina. At the same time, however, legislation to restrict sex education in Arkansas and Texas has also made progress. In addition, legislators in Montana, North Dakota, and Ohio aimed to pass restrictive legislation, but at least for the time being, their efforts have been averted.
On March 18th the Colorado State Senate voted to pass HB 1081, a comprehensive sex education bill. The new bill would create a grant program to fund schools that follow “age appropriate, culturally sensitive and comprehensive human sexuality education” which would be inclusive of immigrants, people of color, and LGBT populations. The bill now heads to the House for consideration of amendments.
Hawaii’s Department of Education had an abstinence-based policy in place regarding sex education until the recent passage of a comprehensive sex education bill, HB 399. The bill was passed by the Hawaii State House on March 5th then passed the Hawaii State Senate on April 11th. The bill includes provisions regarding the teaching ofhealthy relationships, contraception, and disease prevention. The new measure also prohibits the curriculum from discriminating “on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Earlier this year, Chicago passed a comprehensive sex education mandate for grades K-12. Continuing with that forward movement, on April 17th the Illinois State House passed HB 2675. The bill would create curriculum standards for students in grades six through twelve that are medically accurate and age-appropriate, providing them with knowledge on reducing sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. “The bill’s language allows local districts to choose the sexual education curricula that’s right for their schools and community and gives parents the option to unenroll [sic] their child from any courses they deem objectionable.” The bill now moves over to the state Senate for consideration.
On April 23rd, the Nevada State Assembly passed AB 230, a bill requiring sex education to be medically accurate and age appropriate. Students would be automatically enrolled into sex education classes, changing the current protocol from opt-in to opt-out, and school districts would also be required to teach topics including domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. In addition, the bill’s language would ensure that sexual health information be inclusive of LGBT youth, as well as religious youth. Currently, AB 230 lies in the state Senate awaiting action.
In South Carolina, Rep. Jenny Horne is leading the charge to update the state’s 25-year-old sex education law The new state bill would require certified health education teachers to teach medically accurate information on how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A subcommittee hearing took place on April 17th, however a vote was postponed.
On April 7th, the Arkansas State Senate voted to pass SB 818, a bill designed to defund any entity that provides abortions or refers patients to other abortion providers. Although Planned Parenthood “does not receive any family planning money from the state, the bill will end a state-funded HIV and STI prevention program that Planned Parenthood administers in Arkansas public high schools.” SB 818 now moves to a vote in the state House of Representatives.
The Texas Senate Education Committee passed SB 521 on March 13th, proposing that “an entity or individual that performs abortions or an affiliate of an entity of individual that performs abortions may not provide human sexuality or family planning instruction or instructional materials for use in human sexuality or family planning instruction in public school.” This bill would prevent organizations like Planned Parenthood from providing sex education materials to Texas students. No further action outside of the committee has been taken.
HB 239 passed the Montana State Senate on a second reading on April 8th after passing the House of Representatives on February 7th. The bill required parents to opt their children into sex education courses rather than opt-out. Similar to proposals in Texas and Arkansas, HB 239 would also have made it illegal for organizations that provide abortions to dispense information on sexually transmitted diseases in schools. Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the legislation, however, stating that the bill reflected “an unfounded mistrust of educators” and “would have intruded on the Board of Public Education and local school boards' constitutional authority over schools.”
In North Dakota, the House approved a provision in March, attempting to cut federal funding for a comprehensive sex education program for Fargo students. The funding was a three-year, $1.2 million federal sex education grant for North Dakota State University to provide voluntary sex education to Fargo-area teens ages 15 to 19 with parental consent. The grant was initially frozen after attorneys questioned “whether it would violate a state law that forbids government funding to people or groups that encourage abortion.” The provision was ultimately defeated unanimously in early April.
In Ohio, state Republicans attempted to add an amendment to the state budget that would have banned sex education classes from talking about “gateway sexual activity.” The term includes all sexual contact, defined as “any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thighs, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast.” The amendment would have allowed a parent or guardian to fine an educator up to $5,000 if such instruction was taught to their children. Ohio lawmakers voted on April 19th to drop it from the budget.
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