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State Legislatures Move Closer to Progressive Sexuality Education Laws

Legislatures in states across the country made significant gains on sexuality education during the early months of their 2008 sessions.  For example, advocates in Connecticut, Florida, and Minnesota have worked to pass positive legislation and provide funding for comprehensive sexuality education.

In Connecticut, the Healthy Teens Coalition is leading an effort to pass a state-based bill resembling the federal Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act.  Like REAL, Connecticut’s Act Concerning Healthy Teens would provide funding for comprehensive sex education.  Specifically, the Connecticut bill would allocate $1 million in grants to fund comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education in the state.1  It would not require sexuality education, but rather would provide the funds to schools and teachers in the state who want to provide comprehensive education or receive training in it.

The bill passed through the Connecticut General Assembly’s Senate and out of two House committees. A part of the original bill was also added to the appropriations bill; in the last week of the session a provision for $500,000 for Healthy Teen grants was added to the larger appropriations bill. It remains uncertain if Governor Jodi Rell (R) will sign that bill into law.

Advocates in Florida, organized under the umbrella Healthy Teens Campaign, worked to advance sex education legislation in their state.  If passed, Florida’s Healthy Teens Act would “require that Florida public schools receiving state funding provide comprehensive, medically-accurate, and age-appropriate factual information when teaching about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, family planning, or pregnancy.”2 

Using a broad coalition of support including religious, LGBTQ, women’s, and youth advocacy groups, the Campaign moved the Senate version of the Healthy Teens Act out of the K-12 Education Committee.  This is an important victory and it is worth noting that the deciding vote was placed by a Republican, Senator Lisa Carlton.3  Although the bill did not pass either chamber, it successfully garnered the bipartisan support of 34 sponsors between the House and the Senate.4

Meanwhile advocates in Minnesota also continued their work to require that sex education be taught in public schools.  The Responsible Family Life and Sexuality Education Programs bill would require comprehensive sex education for students in grades seven through 12 in Minnesota’s schools.5  The bill passed through committees in both chambers of the Minnesota legislature, but failed to be called for a vote in the House.

Undaunted, advocates worked to have the bill’s language about sexuality education added to both versions of the Education Policy Omnibus bills. Each chamber passed its omnibus bill with the original language on sexuality education. The conference committee reached resolution between the two versions, but the sexuality clause failed to make it into the final version, in part because conference committee members feared the Governor would veto the entire bill due to the inclusion of sexuality education. 

Governor Tim Pawlenty is unlikely to support the Responsible Family Life and Sexuality Education Programs as he is on record saying that he considers the current state law to be sufficient; “We have an existing law on it that I think is pretty good, and it gives substantial latitude to local school boards and parents and community leaders, rather than having the state come in and issue all the marching orders in this area,” Pawlenty said.6

“Advocates in states across the country continue to make progress in accomplishing a paradigm shift away from abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and toward comprehensive sex education,” commented William Smith, SIECUS’ vice president for public policy.  “Advocacy and legislative work on the state level is proving to be an effective means for creating positive sexuality policy and helping educate youth,” he concluded.

References

  1. “The Healthy Teens Act,” Healthy Teens Connecticut, accessed 28 April 2008, http://www.healthyteensct.org/policymakers/hta.php.
  2. “For Policymakers: The Healthy Teens Act,” The Healthy Teens Campaign, accessed 28 April 2008, http://www.healthyteensflorida.org/for-policymakers.
  3. SB828, Florida Legislature, accessed 28 April 2008, http://www.flsenate.gov/cgi-bin/view_page.pl?Tab=session&Submenu=1&FT=D&File=session/2008/Senate/bills/votes_com/html/SSB0848.ED.html.
  4. “SB 848,” Florida House of Representatives, accessed 29 April 2008, http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=37740&SessionId=57.
  5. HF 0615, Minnesota Legislature, accessed 28 April 2008, https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bin/bldbill.php?bill=ceH0615.1.html&session=ls85.
  6. Tim Nelson, “Pawlenty says sex ed proposal is unacceptable,” Minnesota Public Radio, 1 May 2008, accessed 1 May 2008, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/05/01/veto/.

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