By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal that would require “family life education” curricula taught in schools to be abstinence-centered advanced in the House on Wednesday despite criticism that it’s unnecessary.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gotto of Hermitage passed the House Education Subcommittee on a voice vote. The legislation has become an alternative to a proposal that seeks to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students.
That proposal, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, seeks to limit all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade. It was considered in the House Education Committee last week, but its sponsor delayed it to allow lawmakers to consider Gotto’s more comprehensive proposal.
The bill would allow the teaching of safe sex, but the curriculum would have to be “abstinence-centered,” emphasizing that abstinence is withholding from “any kind of sexual contact.”
Under the proposal, a family life education curriculum also would “encourage students to communicate with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult about sex or other risk behaviors.”
Sponsors of the proposal say it’s also a tool to address the state’s high teen pregnancy rate.
However, Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he doesn’t think the bill is necessary because the Tennessee Board of Education already has a policy relating to sex education.
“This is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Winters said. “So I think this is a lot to do about nothing.”
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he doesn’t think the “Don’t Say Gay” proposal is needed because there are already rules governing what schools may teach.
As for the abstinence-centered proposal, he told reporters on Wednesday that he’s consulting with the Department of Education to see if the proposal “does … things that we’re not doing now.”
“The initial response in the Department of Education is this wouldn’t change a lot of what our current policy is,” he said.
Gotto’s bill now goes to the House Education Committee, where Republican Rep. Richard Montgomery of Sevierville is chairman. Montgomery said he, too, questions the necessity of the proposal, but believes it could help lower teen pregnancy.
“Let’s just hope at the end of the day that we improve over what we had a little bit,” he said.
Read HB3621/HB229 at http://capitol.tn.gov.