OLYMPIA – A controversial bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education be taught at various points in a student’s years in public schools was signed into law Friday, but opponents will try to get voters to reject it in November.
It will require schools to use curricula approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that teach about establishing relationships, affirmative consent and recognizing sexual violence, choosing healthy behaviors and different aspects of human development.
Parents must have a chance to review the curriculum a school district selects and can have their children opt out of the classes.
The bill passed both chambers on partisan votes after Republicans tried to stall it with more than 200 amendments and other parliamentary maneuvers. GOP senators, who have called the curriculum too graphic and said they were swamped by constituents opposed to the bill, called for a veto.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed it with dozens of other pieces of legislation, saying it would help teach healthy relationships, respect for sexual identity and prevent sexual violence.
Although most provisions of the bill don’t start taking effect until the 2021-22 school year, all provisions are technically on hold while an opposition group, Parents for Safe Schools, attempts to collect the signatures needed to get a referendum on the general election ballot asking voters to reject it.
They’ll need to collect 129,811 valid signatures from registered voters by June 10. But they’ll have to do it, at least in the early phases of the signature drive, while the state is on a stay-home order.
“In the era of social distancing, how are sponsors of these ballot petitions supposed to gather the required number of signatures by deadline?” Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform, wondered in a recent article about the referendum and other initiatives filed before the COVID-19 outbreak prompted changes in most people’s daily routines.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said her office can’t waive constitutional requirements for the number of signatures or the deadlines for submitting them. A 2018 state Supreme Court ruling does provide some leeway for accepting petitions. As long as they have the proper information of what’s on the proposed ballot measure, the office won’t reject petitions over questions about the format.
“Content is more important than form,” Wyman said. She anticipates referendum sponsors preparing a PDF document that can be sent to supporters, who can print them out at home and sign them, then mail them to sponsors to collect and submit later. Normally a commercially printed petition has space for 20 signatures, but she anticipates lots of individually printed petitions with just one, two or three signatures from people in a household.
The petitions have to have actual signatures, not photocopies, and can’t be faxed or scanned and sent to sponsors or the elections office.
“We really want to uphold the constitutional intent of initiatives to the people,” Wyman said. “This is one way we can work around all of the restrictions COVID-19 is putting on use.”
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