Hundreds crowd Capitol for hearing on sex ed changes

A hearing for a sex-education bill drew a crowd that filled the Colorado Capitol's largest hearing room as well as two overflow rooms and the hall outside on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

The Colorado state Senate Health and Human Services Committee will move into the eye of the storm Thursday afternoon with a hearing on changes to the state's comprehensive sex education curriculum that has generated hours of hearings and hundreds of witnesses who want it to go by the wayside.

And there may be a surprise or two ... or eight.

The bill's Senate sponsors -- Sen. Nancy Todd, a Democrat; and Sen. Don Coram, a Republican -- are expected to offer amendments in an attempt to tamp down some of the heat over the controversial measure.

House Bill 1032 (text here) went through a series of contentious hearings both in a House Health and Insurance Committee hearing on Jan. 30 and hours more of debate in the House ahead of its final House passage on Feb. 16 and 19. 

> RELATED: Colorado House clears sex-ed bill; on to the Senate

The bill covers the content of the state's comprehensive sex education curriculum for public K-12 schools that has been in law since 2013. 

Sex education instruction is optional; schools do not have to offer it. However, if they do offer it, it must be comprehensive and follow statutory guidelines. In addition, parents have the ability to opt out their children from sex ed classes, also a provision from the 2013 law.

The new bill includes stricter bans on "abstinence-only" sex education, which is offered by a handful of schools, mostly in Douglas County and in rural parts of the state.

> RELATED: Safe haven bill clears Colorado House committee

The measure also would cancel the waiver available to charter schools allowing them to offer sex ed that fits with their curriculum. At least two charter schools have obtained those waivers and offer a sex ed curriculum tied to a Christian college in Michigan. 

The bill also spells out guidelines for instruction around LGBTQ relationships, consent and the definition of healthy relationships. Under the bill, instruction cannot use "shame-based or stigmatizing language or instructional tools, employing gender norms or gender stereotypes, or excluding the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals."

The measure is opposed by many conservatives and church groups, including the Colorado Catholic Conference, which said in a statement last month that "local school districts, in conjunction with school boards and parents, are the best vehicle to determine what content standards should be adopted for instruction regarding human sexuality."

On the other hand, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and First Congregational Church of Denver both testified in favor of the measure in the House, as did the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Planned Parenthood, and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

Some opponents of the bill have incorrectly stated it would mean schools would offer explicit instruction on sexual positions, including that employed by LGBTQ individuals.

> RELATED: As sex-ed bill heads to Colorado Senate, opponents gear up for round two

The bill states that comprehensive sex ed does not require instruction on "pregnancy outcome options." However, if a school decides to provide instruction on pregnancy, it must include all options, including adoption, abortion, parenting and information on the state's safe haven laws. The latter was added in an amendment in the House, where the measure was sponsored by  Democratic Reps. Susan Lontine and Yadira Caraveo.

The Senate hearing on House Bill 1032 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

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