Sex education bill killed by House panel

Advocate Photo by WILL SENTELL -- State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, pursued legislation Wednesday that would mandate sex education in public schools. She said it would help combat the state's high rate of teen pregnancies. A House rejected the measure. Show caption
Advocate Photo by WILL SENTELL -- State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, pursued legislation Wednesday that would mandate sex education in public schools. She said it would help combat the state's high rate of teen pregnancies. A House rejected the measure.

Teen pregnancy, STDs cited as why students need classes

A bill that would mandate sex education in public schools was killed Wednesday by the House Education Committee.

The vote was three in favor and 10 opposed.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, pleaded with the panel to approve her bill to help combat Louisiana’s high rate of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

“It is about time we think about the children,” Smith said. “There are children being abused because no one talks about it.”

Opponents questioned the need for the proposal — House Bill 369.

“I don’t think it is the responsibility of schools to provide sex education,” said Jim Crumling, president of the Acadiana Patriots.

Under current law, public schools can offer sex education but they are not required to do so.

Backers and opponents disagreed on how common the practice is now.

Smith’s proposal, which has sparked arguments since 2010, would apply to students in grades four through 12.

The measure would require “age appropriate” instruction on human sexuality, the health benefits, side effects and proper use of approved contraceptives and lessons to help students “make responsible decisions about sexuality and relationships.”

The legislation would require that abstinence be taught as the most reliable way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

It would ban any advocacy of abortion.

Students could be excused from the classes on the written request of a parent or guardian.

The associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, Rob Tasman, criticized the bill.

Tasman told the committee that, while Catholic schools offer sex education, it is done in the context of faith and morality.

He also objected to a provision in the bill he said would pave the way for schools to distribute contraceptives.

Smith said she planned to remove that section on the legislation and later did so through an amendment.

Smith said she attended Catholic schools, heard little discussion about sex but now lives in a reality of exploding rates of teen pregnancies, chlamydia and other diseases.

She said cases of pregnancies at the ages of 10 and 13 show “We have a problem in this state that needs to be addressed.”

Debate on the bill spanned two days.

The committee spent about 30 minutes on the measure on Tuesday, ran out of time and resumed debate on Wednesday morning.

Smith said that, rather than encouraging teens to engage in sex, her bill would ensure that they get medically accurate information and hear the importance of healthy relationships.

The committee voted quickly and without debate after public testimony and Smith’s closing comments.

The same panel has considered sex education bills for years.

In 2012 a similar proposal failed in the House Education Committee on an 8-8 vote, one short of the majority needed.

A few days later the vote was 9-9, with three Republicans joining six Democrats in favor of the effort.

The vote on Wednesday was a party line vote — Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed — with state Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thidodaux joining the opponents.

Voting FOR sex education in the public schools (3): state Reps. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, Ed Price, D-Gonzales and Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

Voting AGAINST HB369 (10): state Reps. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, Henry Burns, R-Haughton, Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, Barry Ivey, R-Central, Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, and Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.

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