Comprehensive Sex Education Bill Passes Illinois Senate

A comprehensive sex education bill, HB 3027, passed the Illinois state senate on May 25, 2011, by a vote of 30–28—the lowest possible number of “yea” votes needed to pass the senate. The bill barely made it out of the Senate after failing a vote in the chamber three weeks prior. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), offered amendments to the bill to appeal to the concerns of conservative members and brought the measure back for another vote. The revised bill garnered the necessary 30 votes and passed the Senate.[1] Under the legislation, school districts that offer sex education in grades 6–12 would be required to provide instruction that is medically accurate, developmentally and age-appropriate and complete, and that stresses the benefits of abstinence while also teaching about contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents would have the right to remove their child from such instruction.[2] The bill now awaits concurrence by the House.
 
Illinois state law does not require sexuality education to discuss contraception. In addition, instruction and course materials must “stress that pupils should abstain from sexual intercourse until they are ready for marriage,” among other requirements.[3] Originally introduced as Senate Bill 1619, the Illinois Personal Responsibility Education Program, the measure sought to revise Illinois School Code and the Critical Health Problems and Comprehensive Health Education Act by requiring sex education offered in public schools to include instruction on contraception and removing provisions from law that require instruction to teach abstinence until marriage. The bill would also require schools to make course materials available to parents and other individuals for review.
 
A broad coalition of organizations in Illinois supported the bill, including family planning organizations, AIDS service organizations, youth advocacy groups, legal advocacy organizations, medical and public health professionals, and faith-based organizations, among others. The bill passed out of the Senate Public Health Committee on March 15 by a party line vote of 6–4; however, the measure failed to pass the full Senate with a vote of 29–26, one vote short of the 30 votes needed to advance a measure.
 
Opponents in the Senate argued that the bill was too prescriptive. “Who determines what’s age-appropriate? The legislature? Let [local school boards] decide what’s age-appropriate. Let them decide what’s medically accurate. They don’t need our help.” commented Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon).[4] Despite the opposition, Senator Steans chose to hold the bill back for another vote. “Reducing unwanted pregnancy, reducing sexually transmitted diseases, keeping people free of HIV/AIDS—that’s the goal,” stated Senator Steans. “Nearly half of Illinois high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse. We can pretend that it’s not the case, but it is.”[5]
 
Senator Steans offered an amendment to the bill to appeal to opponents’ concerns, adding the provisions that sex education in grades 6–12 “emphasize that abstinence from sexual intercourse is a responsible and positive decision” and that course material and instruction “place substantial emphasis on both abstinence, including abstinence until marriage, and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases . . . ,” among other revisions.[6] The revised bill was brought back for another vote as an amendment under House Bill 3027, this time passing the Senate.
 
“With this legislation, students will be able to receive comprehensive sex education that focuses on abstinence while also teaching students how to properly protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases,” said Senator Steans in a statement. “Local school districts that currently do not teach sexual education instruction as part of their curriculum will not be affected by this legislation. School districts will also have the ability to frame their curriculum based on the individual needs of the particular local community.”[7]
 
The bill was sent back to the House for final consideration and awaits a full chamber vote. So far, the amendments made to the bill have been approved by individual House subcommittees. However, the Illinois legislative session ends on May 31 and it is not clear if the bill will come to a full House vote before the session ends.
 
 

[1]“Illinois Sex Ed Law Requiring Teachers to Talk about Contraception Passes Senate,” Huffpost Chicago, 26 May 2011, accessed 27 May 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/26/illinois-sex-ed-law-requi_n_867418.html>.
[2]Illinois General Assembly, 2011 legislative session, House Bill 3027, Senate Amendment 1, filed 12 May 2011, accessed 27 May 2011, <http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/97/HB/PDF/09700HB3027sam001.pdf>.
[4]Andy Brownfield, “‘Age-appropriate’ Sex Ed Plan Fails in Illinois Senate,”  State Journal-Register, 3 May 2011, accessed 27 May 2011, <http://www.sj-r.com/top-stories/x741441548/Age-appropriate-sex-ed-plan-fails-in-Illinois-Senate>.
[5]Ibid.
[6]Illinois General Assembly, 2011 legislative session, House Bill 3027 Senate Amendment 1.
[7]“Senator Steans Passes Comprehensive Sex Education Legislation,” Illinois Senate Democrats, 25 May 2011, accessed 27 May 2011, <http://www.senatedem.ilga.gov/index.php/component/content/article/101-blog-posts/1990-senator-steans-passes-comprehensive-sex-education-legislation>.

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