UPDATE: The bill passed out of the Senate as of Friday morning and now heads to Governor Polis for his signature.
A bill aimed at improving public school sex ed programs, which has proven to be one of the most controversial policy proposals of 2019, appears to be stagnant at Colorado’s Capitol with just two full days remaining in the legislative session.
The Youth Wellness Act, which aims to make sex ed more comprehensive, inclusive, and medically accurate, has drawn stark opposition from conservatives.
Since it was introduced, opponents have flooded the capitol to testify and rally against it. But despite strong support from Democrats, who control both chambers of the legislature, in addition to a Republican sponsor, the bill might not make it to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.
Hundreds of bills have yet to be resolved before the General Assembly adjourns for the year on Friday, and with a major backlog in the Senate, Democrats will have to decide which bills to act on and which ones to let die.
The Youth Wellness Act is ready for a vote in the full Senate, and appears poised to pass, but that vote keeps getting delayed.
In case you haven’t been following the bill or are confused about what it actually contains thanks to all the misinformation that’s out there, here’s a rundown:
House Bill 1032 doesn’t require that all schools teach sex ed, but it lays out content requirements for schools that do opt to have sex ed programs. One of the key requirements is that programs not be abstinence-only, meaning that they have to include lessons on contraceptives when talking about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
It also requires lessons on potential pregnancy outcomes to include information about abortion. That means that if a school does choose to talk about what you can do about a pregnancy, it can’t just teach about parenting and adoption. This is a point of contention for conservatives.
Some conservatives also aren’t happy with the bill’s requirement that sex ed programs be inclusive of LGBTQ experiences. Advocates of the legislation say teaching LGBTQ kids that heterosexual marriage is the only appropriate context for sexual contact further excludes and stigmatizes a population that’s disproportionately at risk of teen suicide.
In fact, the bill bans schools from endorsing any kind of religious ideology when it comes to sex and relationships.
Finally, the bill would require programs to include lessons about consent, which would include teaching about how to communicate consent and recognize when it has been withdrawn. One lawmaker in particular, state Rep. Perry Buck (R-Windsor), objected to this part of the legislation, going so far as to suggest that the definition of consent varies depending on who you are and where you live.
While Democratic lawmakers rush to get through a packed calendar, Republicans have been attempting to slow down the process — and it appears to be working. They’ve even demanded that some bills be read in full before coming to a vote.
“I am very proud of the work that we’ve done in slowing things down and turning some things back, not nearly enough,” Republican state Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs told Colorado Public Radio. “And we will continue to do that for another week.”
“At this point [Republicans] are trying to delay so that we can’t get to Democratic priority bills that they oppose on the calendar,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg told CPR. “We can, but then they will filibuster those so long that we then don’t get to anything else that day. So we are constantly rearranging the schedule as priorities shift and as we pass bills and as the house sends bills over to us.”
In order to curb Republicans’ efforts to run out the clock by talking about bills for hours on end, Fenberg invoked a rarely used rule Monday to limit debate on each bill to an hour.
The sex ed bill still needs two more votes in the Senate before moving on for final approval in the House and then on to Polis for his signature. It’s been repeatedly laid over in the Senate this week.