STATE REP. PATRICIA HAYNES- Smith introduced three bills in the education committee designed to alter the conversation on young people and sex in the state of Louisiana on May 13.
With Louisiana’s two largest cities—New Orleans and Baton Rouge— constantly at the top of HIV infection lists, someone in every parish living with HIV and Louisiana ranking number five in regards to
the rate of teen pregnancies, many say that something has to be done. One bill would allow nine questions about sexual practices to be added to a national survey that
Louisiana teens all take. The next would mandate the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals analyze statistics regarding the pregnancy rates and sexual health of Louisiana teenagers.
The most controversial was legislation that would mandate age appropriate sex education at all grade levels in Louisiana public schools. While the first two passed the committee, and are headed to the house floor, the sex ed. bill did not.
Smith is very well known for her support of sex education. She has introduced measures to guar- antee it in the state of Louisiana since 2010.
“I recognized that there was a major problem with teen pregnancy and began to delve into other statistics relating to this is- sue. Bills had been introduced in past legislative sessions and failed and yet the problem still existed. Having served on the school board in EBR, I recalled a town meeting where Dr. Holly Gallen questioned why we had not yet taken this on,” Smith said.
With the overall conservative nature of the state of Louisiana, it is no surprise that the idea of discussing sex with K-12 students would be met with opposition.
“The committee make up has changed over the years and has become more republican than before. I have gotten the bill out of committee before for it just to die on the house floor. The religious groups such as Family Forum and Catholic Bishops have always opposed the bill and the governor as well. rates and have more influence over some legislators rather than them ing at the cold hard facts. And the problem is not going away,” Smith commented.
There had been a great deal of discussion of what would be ‘forced upon’ Louisiana children if sex ed. legislation became law. However, there would be no stringent requirement—merely that there would be some form of sex education at all levels.”
The bill did not dictate the curriculum but asked that it be age appropriate. There are many other states that have adopted curricu- lum and the Dept. of Education would have the sole responsibility of determining what would have been appropriate for Louisiana students.
While the legislation to mandate sex education did die in the education committee, Smith said she remains hopeful about her other two bills. As far as the surveys go, she is hoping that adding those questions will allow the CDC to collect informa- tion that will be eye opening for state officials.
“The survey can provide a snapshot of the risks stu- dents are taking regarding sex, It is a random selection process and is anonymous. If the sex questions are allowed, we can expect to see the CDC to make some recommendations on interven- tions,” she said.
She said she feels that mandating that DHH officials prepare a report on teen sexual health in the state will be immensely important.
“They do not do this at all. Perhaps this will begin a thought process on what to do about eliminating the high, STI, HIV rates and teen pregnancy,” she said.
The next stop for the bill is the House Floor.
By Terry Young Jr.