House committee OKs sex survey bill

Public-school students could be asked sex-related questions on health surveys under a bill that won narrow approval Tuesday in the House Education Committee.

The vote was 7-6.

Similar bills have cleared the Louisiana House in previous years, but died in the state Senate.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and sponsor of the bill, told the committee that Louisiana is one of the few states in the nation that blocks questions on the survey, which is for the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

The risky behavior surveys are overseen by the state Department of Education.

Erin Bendily, assistant state superintendent of education, said nine questions are deleted on the questionnaire to comply with state law.

Smith’s bill would allow surveys of students “about their risk behavior associated with chronic health conditions, including those related to sexual health.”

She said the prohibition is “unconscionable” in a state with some of the nation’s highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — all venereal diseases.

The legislation is House Bill 393.

It next faces action on the House floor.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and the Louisiana Family Forum filed cards with the committee that indicated opposition to the bill.

Another Smith-sponsored measure, House Bill 369, would require sex education in public schools for students in grades four through twelve.

Action on that 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The committee had met five hours when House Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, announced that the panel would break for Tuesday’s House floor action.

Under existing state law sex education in public schools is legal but not required.

Smith has said students need medically accurate information to make informed decisions.

Opponents say the change would usurp the role of parents and guardians.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.