The “safety clause” at the end of House Bill 19-1032 means if the Democrat-led proposal passes, it cannot be voted on by the state’s voters.
March 2, 2019 at 6:00 am
Colorado lawmakers spent another late night at the Capitol this week debating the details of a sex education bill, but behind the scenes the argument is whether state voters should get the option to block its implementation.
“That’s the thing that’s really a nonstarter for me,” said Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker. “Using the safety clause blocks people from the petition process and takes citizens’ rights away.”
The “safety clause” can be found at the end of House Bill 19-1032, and it means if the Democrat-led bill passes, the state’s voters don’t get a chance to kill it before it becomes law.
“The bill is critical to the health and safety of our children,” said Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Coloradans have already had their say during more than 10 hours of testimony and will have their say because parents can choose to opt out if their school chooses to teach sex ed.”
Normally, if Coloradans don’t like a bill passed by the legislature, the constitution gives them 90 days from the end of session — Aug. 1 this year — to gather 124,632 signatures from registered voters. If they do that, then the bill gets put on the ballot and voters get to decide whether it becomes law.
Smallwood wanted to introduce an amendment during Thursday night’s Senate committee hearing but was told it wouldn’t pass. He said he plans to introduce it when the bill gets to the Senate floor for a vote.
“We’re deliberately denying our citizens’ right to petition,” Smallwood said.
One of the bill’s main sponsors in the House, Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, said she added it for two reasons: Health groups consider certain statistics like the increase in teen suicides a crisis, and she has heard from parents and students that schools across Colorado aren’t following the guidelines from the 2013 law. The 2019 bill would make it clear that “if the instruction is not comprehensive, it is a violation of state law.”
Lontine told The Denver Post she wouldn’t fight to keep the safety clause, however, if the Senate votes to take it out.
As to the other six changes pushed by the bill’s Senate sponsors during Thursday’s hearing, Smallwood supported all of them. Those amendments made it clear that sex education classes wouldn’t teach students how to have sex, wouldn’t be taught to kids in third grade or below, added sex trafficking to the guidelines, reinforced parents rights’ to opt their kids out and swapped the term “gender norm” with definitions for gender stereotypes and healthy relationships.
Smallwood voted for all those amendments, but he ultimately voted against the bill in committee and is likely to do the same when it comes before the full Senate.
“People like me probably feel like our current law is good and doesn’t need to be changed,” Smallwood said. “If the problem is consent, why didn’t we just add a paragraph around consent or LGBTQ relationships. Why did it have to be a complete repeal and replace?”
He thinks the main reason for the rewrite is to bring charter schools into the system by removing their ability to seek an exemption to the state’s sex education requirements. Eight Colorado charter schools that teach about 2,500 students have exemptions, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Those would be eliminated if HB19-1032 passes.
“It’s an elimination of local choice,” Smallwood said.
But kids like Elizabeth Laffely, a Colorado Springs high school student who is transgender, told the committee passing this bill could be a matter of life and death. She said she struggled with depression and self-harm before learning about transgender people during an eighth-grade sex education class.
“I guarantee that without the comprehensive sex education that I received during my middle school years, I would not be sitting here in front of you,” Laffely said. “In fact, I would probably be in a grave with a gravestone of a name that I do not recognize.”