Deadline comes for bill restricting sex education

A controversial bill passed by the Alaska Legislature will reach its day of decision today.

House Bill 156, sponsored by Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla and significantly amended by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, will reach its veto deadline on July 28. That’s the date by which Gov. Bill Walker must sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, the bill will become law without his signature.

As originally drafted, HB 156 was intended to give school districts a two-year break from a state mandate for standardized testing. The state’s Alaska Measures of Progress exam was a total failure, and Keller said districts need a “breather” while the state comes up with a replacement.

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development has already requested a federal waiver from the testing requirement, and HB 156 is intended to waive the state requirement as well.

Keller’s original intent remains in the bill, but it was largely pushed aside by an amendment crafted by Dunleavy.

Dunleavy was the author of the controversial Senate Bill 89, which would have prohibited sex education by anyone but a certified teacher employed at the local school hosting the sex ed course. The bill was written to specifically forbid lessons provided by organizations that also provide abortion services and was seen as specifically targeting Planned Parenthood.

SB 89 failed in the House, but Dunleavy amended HB 156 to include a watered-down version of SB 89.

As passed by the Legislature, HB 156 requires only that sex ed instructors be overseen by a local teacher. Instead of prohibiting Planned Parenthood and any similar organizations, the bill requires sex ed materials and instructors be approved by a local school board.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage and the Senate Minority Leader, has been an adamant opponent of HB 156. In a Wednesday newsletter to constituents, she wrote that even though the controversial elements of the bill have been diluted, “they would still restrict much-needed access to resources in a state that can use all the resources available.”

Staff in Gardner’s office and Keller’s office said they have not been informed about any action by the governor. A spokeswoman for Walker said by email that a decision would not be announced before Thursday.

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