The “comprehensive sex education” bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a narrow party-line vote Thursday, following a lengthy hearing full of the same kinds of arguments that marked debate in the House.

Colorado CapitolThe measure, House Bill 1081, would set requirements for school sex education programs that receive funding from a to-be-created grant program. The bill would not mandate statewide standards for sex education nor replace existing programs. (See this EdNews story for more background on this issue.)

Supporters of the bill argue that it’s needed to improve sex education for Colorado students and to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

But the bill has proved to be a lightning rod for conservative lawmakers and citizens, who fear it would usurp parent rights, downplay abstinence education and encourage teen sexual activity.

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“I suspect an agenda,” said committee member Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud and one of the Senate’s more socially conservative members. Sex education “is none of the state’s business in the first place. This is one of reasons why I have never let the state have a moment with my children in their education.”

A long parade of witnesses testified on the bill. Students, directors of sex education and teen service agencies, and public health officials supported it; several parents opposed it.

Lundberg proposed an amendment that would have required parents to opt in to the program – it was defeated. The current language of the bill allows parents to opt out of any programs created under the bill. Lundberg also proposed an unsuccessful amendment that would allow the State Board of Education to appoint two members to the grant program’s oversight committee.

There also are some turf issues involved in the bill. Although it deals with programs that would operate in schools, the program would be run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, not the Department of Education.

After sitting through more than three hours of testimony, the committee passed the bill 4-3, with majority Democrats prevailing.

Salazar wins Senate confirmation

The Senate Thursday voted 21-14 to confirm Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, as a trustee of the University of Northern Colorado, which has one of the state’s largest educator preparation programs.

Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left
Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left

Some Republican senators had opposed the nomination because they felt Salazar has a conflict of interest in advocating for K-12 funding in his job while needing to support adequate financing of higher education in his trustee role.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, led the criticism of Salazar, noting the state’s constant struggle between funding K-12 and higher education. “The question I posed to Mr. Salazar was ‘how can you balance this conflict.’ … His answer was a bigger pie [of funding], but that’s not reality.”

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, took mild umbrage at the whole conflict-of-interest argument, noting that several legislators, like him, are teachers and are able to balance K-12 and higher ed needs.

There have been several education-related appointments considered by the Senate this session, but only Salazar’s has been controversial.

School board election bill stalls

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, is known for some unconventional ideas, and one of his interesting bills ended up in the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

Senate Bill 13-164 proposed to eliminate residency requirements for school board candidates, allowing someone who lives in one district to run for the school board in another.

Actually the bill was a little more complicated in that it wouldn’t have applied to districts where board members represent specific geographic areas within a district.

Brophy argued loosening residency requirements make sense in an era of cross-district choice for students and when district-run online programs serve students from many districts.

Some committee members had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea, and representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the bill.

“We found absolutely no support from our members and plenty of concern,” said lobbyist Jane Urschel.

A motion to pass the bill stalled on a 4-4 vote. A fifth committee Democrat, Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora, was across the hall presenting the sex ed bill. That leaves the bill technically in limbo, but it’s expected to formally die one way or the other.