Sex-ed update close to dead after GOP senator’s move

05/28/2014 8:53 PM

07/29/2014 8:05 PM

Bills that would update the state’s 26-year-old sex education law and require cursive to be taught in elementary schools each received OKs from a Senate Education Committee by 9-2 votes Wednesday. But both proposals likely are dead for this session, each blocked by a single state senator.

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, blocked a bill that would update the state’s health education law to require schools to teach “medically accurate” information.

The proposal also would enforce an existing law that requires school districts to report to the state what they teach in health and sex education classrooms. The current law has no teeth, but the proposal would allow the state to withhold state money from districts that do not report.

Emma Davidson with the New Morning Foundation said she was disappointed in Fair and state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who voted against the bill, which passed the GOP-controlled House this year after a long battle and negotiations with abstinence-only advocates.

“This has been two years of watching what people care about, making sure that we found good, common-ground compromises,” Davidson said. “The fact that Grooms and Fair think that they get to be the moral authority on stopping people from getting pregnant is beyond me.

“They took what was a cowardly way out,” using a “procedural move” to ensure the proposal would not come up for a Senate vote, she said, adding, “They knew that we have the votes in the Senate.”

Davidson said she and other advocates are encouraging Fair to remove his objection – the only way the bill stands a chance of passing this year. If the bill does not pass this year, the last of the Legislature’s two-year session, it will have to start over in the legislative process next year.

But Fair said he has proof that existing law is working. “A stronger litmus you can apply is the rate of teen pregnancies and that’s gone down every year,” he said.

South Carolina ranks 11th in the country in the rate of teen pregnancies, though the state’s teen birth rate has decreased by 47 percent in 20 years.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, blocked a GOP-backed bill, also OK’d by a 9-2 vote in the Senate Education Committee, that would require all public elementary schools to teach cursive writing and memorization of multiplication tables.

Pinckney said legislators should not write education standards, typically developed by educators with oversight from two state education agencies. “We’re not the experts,” he said.

The Senate panel unanimously approved two other education bills.

One would require public schools to teach students at all grade levels how to identify and prevent sexual assault and abuse. Another would offer an alternative to the GED high-school equivalency test once that test becomes offered on computer only in January.

Both bills now go to the floor of the GOP-majority Senate for debate.

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