From the Seattle P.I.
A bill to require comprehensive sex education in Washington’s public schools has passed the House Education Committee on a 9-8 vote, a key step for legislation repeatedly approved by the Washington State Senate but never brought to a vote in the House of Representatives.
“We were unable to clear this hurdle last year, so this is the farthest this bill has come and is a significant step in the process for Washington state schools to offer this important curriculum,” Courtney Normand of Planned Parenthood Votes said in a statement.
Sex ed legislation has already passed by a largely party line 28-21 vote in the State Senate. The upper chamber passed similar legislation last year. Sexual education was not brought to the floor for a vote under former House Speaker Frank Chopp. House Speaker Laurie Jinkins has replaced Chopp, who retired as Speaker at the end of last year’s session.
Few issues have caused as much controversy in Olympia.
“Comprehensive sexual education is about safety, first and foremost,” the bill’s chief sponsor State Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, said in floor debate. “It does not direct teachers to instruct students on how to have sex or how to promote sexual activity. The curriculum is age appropriate and it is addressed by local school boards.”
The legislation would require every public school to provide comprehensive sex education. Options for local schools would be drawn up by the state’s Office of Public Instruction.
The requirement for grades six through 12 would kick in this September, for kindergarten through fifth grade in 2021. The program’s chief goal, for young students, is to detect and deter sexual violence. It is designed to promote affirmative consent. An opt out clause for parents is included.
A vociferous opponent of the legislation has been State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, co-chair of President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Washington state. It is being pressed by the Legislature’s “urban majority” he argued in a recent article.
“Not just about the birds and the bees, but state-approved theories of gender identity, sexual orientation and relationships, as interpreted by social activist groups,” said Ericksen.
At a contentious House hearing last month, however, a young woman named Jessica Cole testified: “Had I known more about consent, sexual assault, healthy relationships and STI (sexually transmitted infections), I would have been able to protect myself and get appropriate assistance. Comprehensive sex education decreases stigma and increases understanding.”
Sex ed is “about consent and how to understand our bodies,” State Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, a deputy King County Prosecutor, has argued.
The bill passed in the Education Committee has gone to the House Rules Committee. Should there be a floor vote, and sex ed pass the Legislature, it will signal a new era in the House of Representatives.
By Joel Connelly