TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A controversial House bill that would restrict school instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation advanced with changes Thursday, as critics slammed the measure as being overly broad and discriminatory.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 along party lines to approve the proposal (HB 1557), putting the bill in position to be considered by the full House.
A part of the measure that seeks to curtail instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation has riled LGBTQ-advocacy groups and drew dozens of opponents who testified against the bill Thursday.
The proposal says such instruction “by school personnel or third parties” would be prohibited for kindergarten through third-grade students, “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” as determined by state education standards.
Critics have dubbed the proposal the “don’t say gay” bill, a moniker that Democrats said the bill has earned.
“If we are prohibiting discussion around sexual orientation, are we, therefore, prohibiting discussion around people being gay?” Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, asked.
Bill sponsor Joe Harding, R-Williston, said restricting sex and gender-related instruction in younger grade levels is appropriate.
“I would also say that you could apply that to straight (sexual orientation). Again, we’re talking about kindergarten through third grade, children as young as 6 years old,” Harding said.
Harding argued that “at those ages” school lessons should be focused on reading, math, and other basic academic subjects.
The bill that the full House will consider has some key changes. An earlier version, for example, proposed limiting “conversations” about gender and sexual orientation in “primary” grade levels. The revised version more specifically addresses instruction and kindergarten through third grade.
Republicans said the bill isn’t aimed at being discriminatory but seeks to prevent instruction that younger students aren’t ready to receive.
“We’ve been spending most of the time and energy on four or five lines of the bill. And it just says that we don’t talk about these sorts of things until the kids are out of third grade,” Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, said. “You can speak about it in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. You can speak about it in high school.”
But Democrats argued the bill is overly vague and that the provision requiring instruction on sex and gender to be “age appropriate” could be applied to any grade level.
Democrats also expressed concern about a part of the legislation that would allow parents to sue school districts for violations.
Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, criticized the measure as having the potential to create “a new industry for thousands of lawyers.”
Other parts of the bill deal with informing parents about health-related services children receive at school.
For instance, school districts would be required to notify parents at the beginning of each school year about “each health care service offered at their student’s school and the option to withhold consent or decline any specific service.”
A Senate version of the bill (SB 1834) needs approval from the Appropriations and Rules committees before it could go to the full Senate.
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