A bill that would require the teaching of sex education in public schools narrowly failed again Tuesday in the state House Education Committee.
The vote was 9-9, with three Republicans joining six Democrats in favor of the proposal on a volatile social values issue.
The same measure failed 8-8 on April 25.
After the vote, state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the bill, criticized House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.
Carter, who cast the final vote, sided with Smith on April 25 but voted “no” on Tuesday.
“I changed my mind,” he said moments after the vote.
Smith said later that Carter was pressured by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, which opposed the bill. Carter denied that.
Under current law, local school districts have the option of offering sex education classes but it is not a requirement.
The proposal, House Bill 820, would require “age-appropriate” instruction on human sexuality.
Topics at various grades would include the teaching of abstinence as the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy and teaching about sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use, benefits and side effects of approved contraceptives.
Parents could, through a written request, have their children removed from the classes.
Smith earlier distributed figures that show East Baton Rouge Parish ranked first in the state in 2009 in the number of births to mothers under the age of 20.
The parish also ranked third in 2009 in the number of two sexually transmitted diseases — chlamydia and gonorrhea — among females ages 15 to 19.
“We have children as young as 9 and 10 years old having babies in the state of Louisiana,” she said in closing comments to the committee.
But Russell Armstrong, education policy adviser for Jindal, said the issue needs more study, including information on exactly what public school districts are offering now in health classes.
“It would seem to me it makes more sense to see what is happening,” Armstrong told lawmakers.
Lennie Ditoro, who lives in Mandeville and sometimes testifies on public school issues, said the bill would allow for sex education to be taught apart from any instruction on values.
“And sex involves values,” Ditoro said.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the Louisiana Family Forum, which says it promotes traditional family values, also opposed the bill.
MarkAlain Dery, a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS at the Tulane School of Medicine, pleaded with the committee to back the measure.
Dery said most 18-year-olds with HIV that he has spoken with said they either had no sex education classes or abstinence-only instruction.
“This is a totally preventable disease,” he said. “We just need to educate our young people.”
Rob Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his group opposes Smith’s bill, which he said would affect many Roman Catholic students who attend public schools.
Tasman said Catholic schools teach sex education from third grade through high school but that, unlike public schools, they are able to discuss it in moral terms.
“For us it needs to be prudent, timely and moral,” he said.
VOTING FOR MANDATORY SEX EDUCATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS (9): State Reps. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; John Bel Edwards, D-Amite; Patrick Jefferson, D-Arcadia; Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette; Ed Price, D-Gonzales; Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge; and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge.
VOTING AGAINST HB820 (9): State Reps. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; Henry Burns, R-Haughton; Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette; Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans; Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville; Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux; John Schroder, R-Covington; Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston; and Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved