Bills to expand sex education, allow Indian sports betting, reduce greenhouse gas emissions pass legislature, head for Governor’s signature

Mar 6, 2020

It has been a busy week of marathon, late-night floor sessions in both chambers of the state legislature, as lawmakers scramble to pass hundreds of bills before today’s self-imposed 5:00 p.m. deadline. Of the nearly 600 bills that survived previous cut-off dates, the House and Senate have now passed more than 250 bills, and the number keeps growing. Historically, the average for bills passed during even-year 60-day sessions is about 350 measures. 

Majority House Democrats early on Thursday passed a controversial bill to require all public schools to teach an expanded sexual education program to students in grades Kindergarten through high school. The new program would begin with children in grades 6-12 in the 2021-22 school year and would be expanded to children at all grades levels the following year. The bill, SB 5395, passed on a 56-40 party-line vote, with all Democrats voting for it and all Republicans voting against it.

The narrow vote followed nearly six hours of contentious debate in a late-night session during which Republicans proposed a series of amendments. Among other issues of concern, proposed amendments would have allowed teachers to opt out of teaching the controversial curriculum; required written parental permission for before young children in K-4 could be exposed to the material; included teaching abstinence; and provided for greater parental involvement in curriculum development.  These proposals were defeated, and nearly 200 additional amendments were withdrawn.

Proponents said the bill is not trying to harm family values, but is intended to teach facts and provide children with the tools to protect themselves. Opponents said the curriculum is too explicit, pointing out that the state’s cable TV service put up a “Mature Subject Matter, Viewer Discretion Advised” warning prior to broadcasting the debate.

The Senate approved the bill earlier this session, but it was changed by a House Education Committee amendment that was adopted prior to passage of the bill by the full House. The measure must now go back to the Senate for approval of the House amendment, before it can be sent to the Governor for his signature.

Following another late-night debate, the Senate on Thursday passed a bill to allow sports betting at tribal casinos only.  Customers of non-Indian casinos would be excluded.  Opponents of HB 2368 said the bill would deprive the state of about $50 million in tax revenues annually.

Opponents also proposed amendments to strike the emergency clause tacked on to the bill in the House that would make the bill effective immediately and deny state voters a chance to weigh in on the proposal through a referendum vote. These, and other amendments to require negotiating at least some revenue sharing with the state’s citizens by the tribes were defeated, and the bill passed with a bi-partisan 34-15 vote—more than enough to meet the 60 percent supermajority vote requirement for gambling legislation. The bill must now go back to the House for approval of a Senate committee amendment before it is sent to the Governor, who is expected to sign it.

One of the Governor’s key proposals for this year’s session, HB 2311, to impose harsher limits on greenhouse gas emissions, also passed the Senate on Thursday with a partisan 28-21 vote. The bill would, among other provisions, require state agencies to set a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. Current law sets greenhouse gas emission limits for state agencies by 2050 at 57.5 percent below 2005 levels, or 70 percent below emissions expected for that year. Greenhouse gas emissions from state agencies represent about one percent of total carbon emissions statewide.

The bill passed the House last month and is on its way to the Governor for his signature.

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