Thursday’s state Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing on House Bill 1032, the bill clarifying the state’s comprehensive human sexuality education curriculum in public schools, was only slightly shorter than the 10-hour marathon hearing that took place in the House Health and Insurance Committee in January.
The Senate committee Thursday approved the bill on a party-line 3-2 vote and sent it on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill earlier passed on strictly party lines in its first two committee hearings in the House and in a 39-23 final vote by the House on Feb. 19.
Thursday's hearing was notable for who didn’t testify: Some of the bill's most ardent opponents from the marathon House hearing on Jan. 30, including Jeff Hunt of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University (CCU) in Lakewood, CCU lobbyist Shannon McNulty and attorney Kristi Burton Brown.
A review of a lobbyist database on HB 1032 showed McNulty neither opposing nor supporting the bill, instead showing she and her clients were waiting on amendments.
The Colorado Catholic Conference -- which also had been listed as opposed, and which issued a statement in January saying 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" -- showed it had moved to a position of “amending.” Usually, that’s what happens before someone moves to a neutral position.
That change is because of amendments worked out with CCU and other opponents by Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose, one of the bill’s Senate sponsors.
Coram began the bill hearing Thursday afternoon with a statement on why he, a Republican, got involved in a bill so reviled by others in his party.
“If you do not have a seat at the table and rather choose to rant about how bad it is, your concerns may fall on deaf ears,” Coram said. “Respect and collaboration can be more fruitful rather than spewing hate and intimidation.”
Coram said he, his family and friends had been harassed by people walking down the street, in stores and on social media over the bill.
Despite that, he said, he has worked with the bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora, on amendments that would “correct the faults of HB1032 as drafted. ... I thank the leadership of the Senate Republicans for quietly supporting my goals.”
Coram and Todd won support from the committee for a handful of amendments intended to tamp down some of the complaints about the bill.
In addition to language that reiterated that parents can opt their children out of sex ed classes, the panel approved an amendment requiring comprehensive sex education to include instruction about human sex trafficking.
It also struck the term “gender norms,” which sponsors claimed was confusing, and instead added a definition of healthy relationships and gender stereotypes.
Two other amendments clarified that the instruction does not teach students how to have sex and that sex education would exclude students in pre-kindergarten through third grade.
And another amendment struck language that said instruction was not to follow any sectarian or religious ideology. Coram said that’s already in state law and hence redundant.
The bill passed the committee just after 11 p.m.
The testimony Thursday was more balanced between supporters and opponents than it had been on Jan. 30 when more than 400 people signed up to testify, most against the bill, although in the end fewer than half actually spoke on the measure.
Thursday’s hearing began with 213 people signed up to speak, although by mid-evening, as names were called, fewer and fewer responded.
Colorado public school districts are not required to offer sex education at all under current law, and that would still be the case under HB 1032. However, if they do offer it, it must be comprehensive and follow statutory guidelines first established through 2013 legislation. In addition, parents have the ability to keep their children out of sex ed classes, also a provision from the 2013 law.
The new bill reiterates that offering "abstinence-only" sex education without other aspects is against the law -- as it has been since 2013. But according to the Colorado Department of Education, abstinence-only instruction was provided in 2017-18 by schools all over the state, including in Jefferson, Douglas and Adams County and by several Denver schools.
The measure also would cancel the waiver available to charter schools allowing them to offer sex ed that fits with a curriculum that appears to be sectarian in nature. At least two charter schools have obtained those waivers.
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."
“It’s important for youth to learn sex ed within healthy relationships, within the context of consent,” as well as what are safe and healthy relationships, including LGBT relationships, Todd told the committee. State law does not require students to pass a health or sex ed curriculum in order to graduate, she also pointed out.
Comprehensive human sexuality education rejects the use of any kind of shame, stigma or fear or creating bias toward any gender, she added. “It’s important that human sex ed is taught in an objective manner so that youth learned the full scope and are empowered to decide for themselves which preventative methods work best and how to be who they are.”
And to those worried the bill would overrule parents’ values, Todd said: “if you are raising your children with morals and values, you have nothing to fear from this legislation. Your view at home will take precedence over what the world is saying.”
What House Bill 1032, doesn’t do, despite numerous claims from some opponents, is teach Colorado public school students how to have sex or be persuaded to change their sexual orientation under the so-called “homosexual agenda," backers point out.
The hearing was not without dramatic testimony, including an emotion-filled admission from Democratic Sen. Faith Winter of Westminster, who recounted that she had been raped at the age of 4 by an 11-year-old neighbor.
Winter said she had never before spoken about it publicly, and her telling of that experience brought tears to many, both on the committee and in the audience.
Emotional stories came from many others, including from students who said that if they had received comprehensive sex education at younger ages, some of the things that befell them later might not have happened, especially when it came to consent to sex, or for unwanted pregnancies because they had been provided only with abstinence-only education.
One witness said that in her school, which provided abstinence-only instruction, half of her classmates were sexually active by senior year.
Another witness described an abstinence-only lesson. Everyone was given a piece of candy and told to suck on it for a minute, and then pass it along to someone else. That was disgusting, she said, and the instructor said: “just like the candy, no one wants a woman who is used.”
As to those who claim sex education should be solely the purview of parents, “what about young people whose parents aren’t talking to them?” she asked. Students should be provided comprehensive sex education that leaves out shame and stigma, she said.
Opponents continued to blast the bill for excluding parents and sidestepping local control, although the bill was later amended to emphasize that parents can opt their children out of sex ed, a provision already in law from 2013.
Two witnesses testified about a “gender fluidity” program in the Boulder Valley School District and claimed they were not allowed to opt out their children.
“This is a violation of my deeply held beliefs,” said BJ Jones of Boulder. “I felt like the teacher was a preacher trying to convert my child (whom she said was 6 years old) to transgender.”
One witness, who said he taught abstinence-only education at Bruce Randolph Middle School in Denver, said the bill would violate a child's innocence and that it does not require instruction be provided in anything other than English.
Several speakers at the hearing threatened lawsuits. "You'll spend millions" defending this in state and federal court, said one witness.
Robert Fox of Parker told the committee that sex outside of marriage is immoral and that "God's truth is excluded from this bill." He later went on to rail against LGBT people, calling them immoral.
On the other side, Amanda Henderson of the Interfatih Alliance of Colorado said HB 1032 shares values for human rights and equality, and despite the many people of faith who had testified against it, there are just as many who favor it, she said.
“While religious opposition may be loud, the majority of people rooted in faith tradition support this," Henderson said. "The rampant misinformation spread through religious communities is not the only perspective.”
Republican Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa, at the beginning of the hearing, asked that the committee lay over the bill to May 4, the day after the session ends, a move that would have killed the bill. Committee Chair Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora denied the motion.