Legislation that would require all public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education (known as CSHE for short) to each student by the 2022–23 school year cleared the Washington State House of Representatives last night several hours before daybreak after a grueling, protracted floor debate that was unnecessarily drawn out by the chamber’s Republican minority.
House passage of Engrossed Senate Substitute Bill 5395 is a huge win for Washington’s youth and a major accomplishment for the House Democratic caucus, which had to overcome a torrent of Republican amendments just to get the bill considered and voted upon. Last year, ESSB 5395 did not make it out of committee in the House. This year, it went all the way through the chamber.
The bill, requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and overwhelmingly supported by Washingtonians, has passed the Senate twice.
ESSB 5395 is also one of NPI’s major 2020 legislative priorities.
Now the bill going back to where it started for reconciliation, because the House made several significant changes to it. Assuming the Senate concurs with those changes, the bill will land on Governor Inslee’s desk by session’s end with no further action needed by the House of Representatives.
The roll call in the House was as follows:
Sexual health education
House vote on Final Passage as Amended by the House
Yeas: 56; Nays: 40; Excused: 2
Voting Yea: Representative Appleton, Bergquist, Blake, Callan, Chapman, Chopp, Cody, Davis, Doglio, Dolan, Duerr, Entenman, Fey, Fitzgibbon, Frame, Goodman, Gregerson, Hansen, Hudgins, Johnson, J., Kilduff, Kirby, Kloba, Leavitt, Lekanoff, Lovick, Macri, Morgan, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Pellicciotti, Peterson, Pettigrew, Pollet, Ramel, Ramos, Riccelli, Robinson, Ryu, Santos, Sells, Senn, Shewmake, Slatter, Springer, Stonier, Sullivan, Tarleton, Thai, Tharinger, Valdez, Walen, Wylie, Jinkins
Voting Nay: Representative Barkis, Boehnke, Caldier, Chambers, Chandler, Corry, Dent, Dufault, Dye, Eslick, Gildon, Goehner, Graham, Griffey, Harris, Hoff, Irwin, Jenkin, Klippert, Kraft, Kretz, MacEwen, Maycumber, McCaslin, Mosbrucker, Orcutt, Rude, Schmick, Shea, Smith, Steele, Stokesbary, Sutherland, Van Werven, Vick, Volz, Walsh, Wilcox, Ybarra, Young
Excused: Representative DeBolt, Mead
Each caucus had one member excused. The remaining Democrats voted to pass the bill, while the remaining Republicans voted against passage.
“First and foremost, this bill is about safety,” explained prime sponsor Claire Wilson in a news release. It’s about giving students the knowledge they need to recognize and resist inappropriate behaviors — from small children targeted by pedophiles, to older students pressured to have sex by their peers.”
“Second, this bill is about health. Young people ages fifteen to twenty-four represent one-fourth of the sexually active population but acquire half of all new STIs. Studies consistently show that the most effective programs include comprehensive sexual health or HIV education — or both — and the comprehensive approach is proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and STIs.”
“Parents and communities are critical partners in ensuring that our students are healthy and successful, which is why it is so important that this bill strengthens parental rights,” said Representative Monica Stonier (D‑Vancouver), who sponsored companion legislation in the House. “Teaching students how to be good friends, how to say no to unwanted touches, and how to develop healthy, respectful relationships are all building blocks of public education.”
Republicans were livid.
“Senate Bill 5395 was passed in the dead of night (2:00 AM) when most reporters had gone home,” groused Representative Joe Schmick in an email, conveniently neglecting to mention that the debate had begun more than six hours earlier and only dragged on until 2 AM because he and his caucus had insisted in stretching out the proceedings for as long as possible in an attempt to kill the bill.
Schmick also complained that most of the two hundred amendments filed by Republicans against the bill were not considered, without bothering to admit that most of the amendments were offered not in the hopes of improving the bill, but with the objective of killing off the bill. (More than a dozen Republican amendments were considered and all of them were rejected.)
“Despite massive opposition from school officials, teachers and parents around the state, the majority party decided to turn a deaf ear and pass Senate Bill 5395,” grumbled Representative Bob McCaslin.
“Mandating sex education for our kindergartners and elementary school students is the wrong direction for our state,” McCaslin added.
Never mind that the bill sensibly requires only age-appropriate curriculum… Republicans keep peddling this myth that the bill will result in kids being taught inappropriate subject matter. They are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Republicans are also wrong when they claim their position is representative of the sentiments of the people of this state. Our research clearly shows that voters overwhelmingly support this legislation. 67% of respondents polled last autumn backed ESSB 5395, with 49% expressing strong support. Just 22% were opposed and 11% were not sure. Those are very strong numbers.
Having failed in their efforts to kill the bill, Republicans are now making wildly hyperbolic statements about how it will deprive children of their innocence and rip apart communities. But the truth is the bill will empower Washington’s youth. It does not take away parents’ rights or threaten anyone’s innocence. Knowledge is power and there is no excuse or justification — none — for failing to equip young Washingtonians with the information they need to make healthy decisions.