House Democrats: Erin's Law changes are a nonstarter

House minority Democrats say the changes made to the youth sexual abuse prevention legislation known as Erin’s Law gut the bill, and they don’t approve.

The changes, which include allowing school districts to opt-out of the curriculum, were made during a May 19 Senate Education Committee meeting by Chair Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla.

The Senate Education substitute for House Bill 44 would also prohibit school districts from contracting with organizations that provide abortion services like Planned Parenthood for course materials or instruction related to sexual education or sexually transmitted diseases.

Dunleavy’s amended bill combines HB 44 with three other bills dealing with college readiness assessments, parental rights and teacher training.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said in an interview that the “anti-Planned Parenthood” portion of the new bill has a companion bill in the House that never received a committee hearing. Should the new version of HB 44 pass the Senate and a conference committee, she said the House would be asked to vote on a bill it never vetted, and would amount to a “real abuse of the process,” Tarr said.

“The special session is open to any topic, and (Dunleavy) can schedule hearings in his committee on those other pieces of legislation,” Tarr said. “Child sexual abuse and dating violence prevention are important enough issues that they can stand on their own.”

Minority members said during a May 20 press briefing that they would not vote for Dunleavy’s version of HB 44. The original version of the bill had broad bipartisan support and passed the House 34-6 on April 18.

Tarr noted that the state already has a law that allows parents to pull their children out of a classroom for any reason, and that’s why the version of Erin’s Law that passed the Senate unanimously last year did not have such a clarification.

Erin’s Law is named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois woman who was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and has made it her mission to get such prevention and education legislation passed in every state.

Gov. Bill Walker made the bill part of the first special legislative session he called and four versions of Erin’s Law were introduced during the regular session. Tarr has been a vocal leader on the issue and prefiled one of the bills.

She said the opt-out option for parents is the middle ground; it respects the rights of parents who believe the topics should be discussed at home, but at the same time is the best way to get the information to children who might be victims of such abuse.

A sponsor statement from Dunleavy’s office states that the substitute “codifies in state statute the inherent right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Under this legislation, local school boards shall, working with parents, teachers and school administrators, adopt policies to promote the involvement of parents in the education programs for their children.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/21/2016 - 8:22pm