State Politics

Bills would change how Idaho teens are taught sex ed, ban schools from hiring lobbyists

A student reads along with classmates during a ninth-grade sex education class in October 2015 in California.
A student reads along with classmates during a ninth-grade sex education class in October 2015 in California. AP file

Idaho’s sex education law could be getting an update.

The current law, which passed in 1970, starts off by saying the primary responsibility for sex and moral education “rests upon the home and the church and the schools can only complement and supplement those standards which are established in the family.”

It emphasizes that any sex education program should stress the role of the family in our social system. And it says sex education “should supplement the work in the home and the church in giving youth the scientific, physiological information for understanding sex and its relation to the miracle of life, including knowledge of the power of the sex drive and the necessity of controlling that drive by self-discipline.”

A proposal introduced Thursday by House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, would strike that language and replace the section with new language describing how a sex education program should look, adding that information should be medically accurate. It also adds “the development of healthy relationships” to the language describing the purpose of sex ed. Currently, it only describes it as studying “the anatomy and physiology of human reproduction.” Much would stay the same — both the current law and VanOrden’s update make sex ed optional for school districts, and call for the involvement of families and community groups in developing the curriculum. Both also let parents opt their children out.

This is one of several education-related proposals that surfaced at the Statehouse toward the end of the week. The House State Affairs Committee printed a bill on Thursday from Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, to ban schools, higher education institutions and state agencies from hiring lobbyists or advocating for or against legislation.

Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, Boise State University and the state Board of Education have lobbyists now and would be affected by this legislation, according to the Lewiston Tribune. While the issue drew some scrutiny after the Blaine County School District hired its own lobbyist before the 2017 session, Blaine County is the exception among school districts here, not the rule. Idaho Falls District 91, for example, doesn’t have a lobbyist and hasn’t in recent history, said spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne. The College of Eastern Idaho doesn’t have a lobbyist either, said spokesman Todd Wightman.

“Our president is the best advocate for the college,” he said in an email.

The House Education Committee also introduced a bill Thursday sponsored by Reps. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, and James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, to let students play “Taps” at a veteran’s funeral and specify that it is an excused absence from schools.

Friday was the deadline for House members to introduce “personal bills,” or bills they can file without going through the committee process. Such bills typically have little chance of passing. House Speaker Scott Bedke often refers them to the House Ways and Means Committee, where they more often than not see no further action. They are frequently used as a way for Democrats and further-right Republicans alike to make statements about their views.

Lawmakers filed several education-related personal bills Thursday and Friday, including two from Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, that would end federal support for public schools in Idaho and let districts opt out of Common Core.

House Bill 412 says that, if the state adopts Common Core standards as the content standards for a particular subject, schools districts “may adopt alternative content standards for that subject and may adopt curricular materials consistent with the alternative content standards.” And House Bill 413 caps federal funding for education in Idaho at $300 million in the next fiscal year — about $12 million less than what would be expected otherwise, according to the bill’s fiscal note — and would reduce it by $40 million a year after that, until it reaches zero.

“Once attained, Idaho will retain its education freedom by not allowing federal funding for any of its future grades K-12 education appropriations,” the bill says.

Both bills have been referred to Ways and Means.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, introduced two education-related bills Friday. One would ban state-funded colleges and universities from restricting student speech unless such restrictions are reasonable, narrowly tailored, content-neutral, leave alternate channels for communicating the same information and don’t restrict said speech to certain areas of campus. One would let both current and retired law enforcement officers carry firearms on school property.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.