Statehouse roundup, 3.6.19: House passes sex ed opt-in bill

After an hourlong debate, the House voted along party lines Wednesday to pass a bill requiring parents to opt their children into any sex education courses offered in Idaho schools.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt
Rep. Barbara Ehardt smiles as her sex education opt-in bill passes the Idaho House of Representatives Wednesday. (Sami Edge, Idaho Education News.)

Pushed by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, House Bill 120 would reverse the procedures for how sex education is taught in Idaho. Currently, Idaho law allows parents to opt their children out of sex education. Under Ehardt’s bill, students could not take sex education unless their parents specifically filled out paperwork to opt them in.

“HB 120 is about parental involvement in our children’s sexual content,” Ehardt said. “This bill is about consent, not about content.”

In committee and on the House floor, Ehardt and other supporters said that sex education courses stray from strict, abstinence-only teachings and do not align with Idaho values. During her floor debate, Ehardt said sex ed courses normalize sexual behavior and include instructions for use of condoms.

However, opponents argued that requiring an opt-in program would create a bureaucratic and administrative hurdle that could result in far fewer students having access to information about sex education, their bodies and their reproductive systems. Opponents also argued that passing such as bill could endanger children that are abused by their parents — since abusive parents would seek to block access to information about sexual abuse, consent and the reproductive system.

“It is possible when kids are being abused, because of a lack of knowledge or information, they might not be able to identify what is happening to them,” said Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.

During a Feb. 26 committee hearing, 18 of the 21 people who testified on the bill — including a number of high school students — all opposed its passage.

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In the end, all 56 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill on Wednesday while all 14 Democrats opposed it.

HB 120 next heads to the Senate for consideration. Its first stop will likely be in the Senate Education Committee.

Warrantless arrests

A divided House passed a bill to allow police officers to arrest, without a warrant, a suspect in a threat against a school.

House Bill 209 stems from a March 2018 incident, involving an online threat against two Moscow schools. Absentee rates surged the day of the threats, and neighbors volunteered to provide armed protection at the schools. But a new state law governing online school threats would not allow officers to make an arrest. (More about the incident from the Moscow Daily News.)

“We should give them the full range of tools … to do their jobs,” said Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, the bill’s sponsor.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, lauded the bill’s intent but criticized its wording. By allowing warrantless arrests in a home, he said, the bill violated constitutional protections.

The bill passed, 47-22, and heads to the Senate.

Funding formula update

The House Education Committee continued to debate drafts of proposals to rewrite Idaho’s K-12 public school funding formula.

But an actual bill has yet to materialize, and it doesn’t look like one is coming Thursday either. House Education is not scheduled to meet Thursday, so it appears Friday could be the earliest a bill would come up for introduction.

On Wednesday, legislators took turns dissecting two different draft bills. Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, has spent the past three days discussing a draft that was written with input from several education groups. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said she worked with Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, on a different version, based on an earlier draft the Legislature’s Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee presented to the education committees in January.

At this point, legislative leaders are working toward adjourning the session later this month, so time could be running out for a major funding overhaul to move forward.

(More Statehouse news: Immunization opt-in bill, guns-in-schools bill dead for session. Kevin Richert’s blog.)

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