Democrats in the Washington State Legislature today took the final steps to send Senator Claire Wilson’s comprehensive sexual health education bill to Governor Jay Inslee, voting along party lines to concur in the amendments that the House of Representatives made to ESSB 5395 after an acrimonious floor debate.
Originally requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, the final version of ESSB 5395 has three main objectives:
- Requires every public school to provide comprehensive sexual health education [CSHE] that meets certain requirements.
- Directs public schools to use review tools when choosing sexual health education curricula that is not on a list developed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- Requires school districts to annually identify to OSPI any curricula used to provide comprehensive sexual health education
Washington State currently does not require school districts to provide CSHE. Now, that is set to change. “Every public school must provide comprehensive sexual health education to each student by the 2022–23 school year. This requirement is phased in beginning with all public school students in grades six to twelve in the 2021–22 school year, and then all public school students in the 2022–23 school year,” nonpartisan staff explained in their final analysis of the bill.
Parents and guardians still have the option of excusing their children from receiving comprehensive sexual health education by making a formal written request.
Furious Senate Republicans attempted to shut down the debate on the bill after legislative staff mistakenly updated the bill’s legislative webpage to indicate that the bill had received a concurrence vote prior to the vote actually taking place. They failed. The Senate voted to continue considering the bill, voted to concur in the House amendments, and then voted again on final passage.
The roll call on final passage was as follows:
Sexual health education
Senate vote on Final Passage as Amended by the House
Yeas: 27; Nays: 21; Excused: 1
Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Carlyle, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Das, Dhingra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, Lovelett, McCoy, Mullet, Nguyen, Pedersen, Randall, Rolfes, Saldaña, Salomon, Stanford, Takko, Van De Wege, Wellman, Wilson (Claire)
Voting Nay: Senators Becker, Braun, Brown, Ericksen, Fortunato, Hawkins, Holy, Honeyford, King, Muzzall, O’Ban, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Short, Wagoner, Walsh, Warnick, Wilson (Lynda), Zeiger
Excused: Senator Hobbs
Senator Hobbs did not vote. The other Democrats voted aye and all the Republicans voted nay. The concurrence vote was identical to — and immediately preceded — the vote on final passage. Most of the caucus posed for a photo with State Representative Monica Stonier following the proceedings.
“The hard work that we put into this bill — in both the House and Senate — is well worth it because it will improve safety for children statewide,” Senator Claire Wilson said in a statement released by the caucus. “We must ensure that our kids have the tools and knowledge they need to recognize and resist inappropriate behavior. This important education will help prevent younger kids from being targeted by pedophiles, and help teens who feel pressured to have sex.”
“It also helps students stay healthy in consensual relationships,” Wilson added. “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.”
Wilson emphasized that the bill does not mandate any curriculum. It only requires that CSHE be taught once each year from kindergarten until sixth grade and then twice a year thereafter, with all curriculum to be “age appropriate”. School districts retain the flexibility to decide what curriculum they would like to offer students in the communities they serve, but cannot opt to offer any CSHE at all.
Republican lawmakers bizarrely insist that the bill is multiple degrees of awful, and the Washington State Republican Party claims it will mount a referendum campaign against the bill if Governor Inslee signs it (which he will).
In a referendum, a bill passed by the Legislature is placed before voters for approval or rejection. Referenda can be legislatively ordered or initiated by petition. A legislatively ordered referendum is not presented to the governor for signature. A referendum initiated by citizen petition can only be instigated following the governor’s approval of the legislation.
Referendum signature drives must take place within the span of ninety days, and as of 2017, must gather 129,811 valid signatures (a figure that is equivalent to four percent of the number that voted in the last election for governor).
NPI’s research finds extremely strong and broad support for ESSB 5395.
Couple that research with the fact that a referendum would appear on the November 2020 general election ballot — which is when the electorate tends to be much larger and more progressive — and you’ve got a very favorable environment in which to defend the legislation if it were subjected to a public vote.
ESSB 5395 is one of our legislative priorities for 2020. We’re delighted to see it leave the Legislature and head to Governor Inslee. Congratulations to State Representative Monica Stonier, Senator Claire Wilson, and all who worked on this bill for their efforts. Special thanks to Senators Mona Das and Manka Dhingra for their passionate and eloquent floor speeches in support of the bill today.