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State House passes controversial sex education bill

Law would promote inclusive language around LGBT issues
The Colorado State House passed a sex education bill that would expand on what is already being taught in public schools.

DENVER – The Colorado state House passed a bill Tuesday that will expand sexual education requirements in public schools and ensure that abstinence-only programs are banned.

House Bill 1032, which Republicans fought for hours last week to block, passed the House on a vote of 39 to 23. One Democrat, Rep. Donald Valdez, who represents the San Luis Valley, voted against it. The bill now heads to the Senate.

HB 1032 has stirred controversy in the Capitol, although it nominally expands on a 2013 law that already prohibits abstinence-only education and promotes inclusive language for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in school sex education programs. On Friday, Democratic lawmakers gave the bill initial approval after a daylong debate with Republicans, who tried to block the bill, saying it is unconstitutional and will violate Coloradans’ religious beliefs.

But Democrats fought back and defended sex education as a tool to promote tolerance.

“For so long we have allowed religion to malign people who are different, and if we are not teaching our kids to be inclusive of people who are different than they are, that perpetuates that,” said Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, the bill’s sponsor.

HB 1032, if passed into law, would expand Colorado’s existing comprehensive sex education program, which must discuss alternative genders, sexualities and various methods to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The program discusses abstinence but does not promote it. HB 1032 would, among other things, give schools money to run comprehensive sex-education programs, with particular preference given to rural school districts.

Coram

Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. In the past, Coram has broken with his party to support contraceptives and comprehensive sex education.

He said abstinence-only education doesn’t adequately protect teens from STDs or unwanted pregnancies, a perspective shared by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Earlier this month, Coram declined to discuss HB 1032’s prospects in the Senate, where Republicans and opponents of the bill are likely to stage another battle to block it.

“I’m sending out an SOS. This is not over,” said Rep. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, on Tuesday, minutes before HB 1032 passed. “Let your voice be heard.”

rhandy@durangoherald.com