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Lively fight waged against sex ed bill

Already hyped up from nearly two days of gun-control debate, the Colorado House Tuesday leapt into a morning-long wrangle over sex education.

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver / File photo

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver

The Democratic-controlled House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 13-1081, but not before Republicans tried a blizzard of amendments to remedy what they see as the bill’s weaknesses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, would create an expanded set of standards for human sexuality education that schools and districts would have to follow if they used grants from a fund that also would be created by the bill. The new requirements wouldn’t affect districts that continue to use existing health and sex education standards. Parents would have to be informed about use of the new program and could opt their children out of classes.

Supporters believe current sex-education efforts are not as effective as they could be and that stronger programs are needed to reduce teen pregnancy and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

The measure is supported by groups such as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains; One Colorado, a LGBT advocacy group; the Colorado Association of School Nurses; and Denver Health.

It’s opposed by such groups as Colorado Family Action, the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Douglas County schools.

Republican opponents of the bill were unhappy with what they see as insufficient emphasis on abstinence (referred to during the debate as “sexual risk avoidance”), a lack of review mechanisms for the program’s effectiveness, a possibly biased oversight board and a lack of parent representation on the board. Some Republicans also are uncomfortable with the bill’s requirement that sex education be inclusive of gay and lesbian students.

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument and a former policy analyst for Focus on the Family, led the charge against the bill. She repeatedly challenged Duran, often in a snide tone.

At one point Stephens referred to a Duran statement as “gobbledygook.”

During another exchange, Duran said, “Representative Stephens, I answered your question.”

“No you didn’t, no you didn’t,” Stephens responded.

Late in the debate, Duran just stopped answering Stephens’ questions (as is allowed by House rules).

Here are some other sound bites from the nearly four hours of debate:

  • “This is just a Planned Parenthood jobs bill,” Stephens said. It’s an outrage of epic proportions.”
  • Defending the bill’s inclusiveness, Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, said she was speaking as “a gay mother and a gay grandmother.”
  • Arguing against sex education in early primary grades, Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said, “Don’t take away the innocence of children.” At another point Priola said, “As a practicing Catholic I feel it abhorrent that birth control is even used.”
  • “First-graders should not be taught sex in our public schools,” agreed Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
  • “There’s a radical individualism in this bill. … It undermines the natural rights of parents,” said Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance.
  • “I’m amazed that in 2013 … we’re going on and on about this issue. I think we need adult sex education,” said Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, who holds a doctorate in reproductive endocrinology from Colorado State University.

The debate also was marked by multiple parliamentary time-outs as House leaders decided whether various amendments and maneuvers were within House rules. At several points Republican members were making substitute amendments for changes proposed by their own colleagues.

Three amendments were passed, all with Democratic approval. One clarifies that the bill doesn’t change state health education standards and the second would add one parent to the oversight board created by the bill. As a nod to McNulty, Duran also allowed what she saw as a meaningless amendment about sex ed for students in early grades.

The bill will need a final House roll call vote before moving the Senate.

For the record

Here’s a quick look at action on other education-related bills Tuesday:

Senate Bill 13-015 – This bill would allow school boards, if they so choose, to allow members to participate in meetings electronically, such as via telephone or Skype. Received final approval by the Senate and moved to the House Education Committee

Senate Bill 13-090 – This mid-year budget adjustment bill would spread an extra $9.3 million boost among college and university budgets in the current year. Signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper

House Bill 13-1170 – Proposed authorization for school districts to set policies for carrying of weapons at schools by staff members. Killed by the House Judiciary Committee

House Bill 13-1175 – The measure would have banned state spending on expansion of the Medicaid program until state higher education funding was restored to above $700 million a year. Killed by the House Public Health Care Committee