With session winding down, House passes Erin’s Law

By April 20, 2015 December 17th, 2015 Education, State Government
Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, wraps up debate on House Bill 44, also known as "Erin's Law," in the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, wraps up debate on House Bill 44, also known as “Erin’s Law,” in the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The House passed a version of Erin’s Law on Saturday. Now, three versions of the child sexual abuse prevention bill are stuck in the Senate Education Committee as the legislature winds down for the year. Majority leadership has indicated there’s no rush to pass the bill.

Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson said deciding how to educate children about sexual abuse prevention should be done on a local community level, and not mandated by state law.

House Bill 44 would require public schools to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

Wilson says the legislature should be more concerned with what resources schools have when something comes up.

“We have a 7-year-old who’s been mistreated at home, comes and says something to the teacher about it. Do we have the safety nets to be able to – and the people we need – to find out exactly what happened? Or does that child get taken immediately from the home, spiraling the family downward for something that might have been innocently said and nothing happened. Children say things,” Wilson said.

Republican Reps. Dan Saddler, Shelley Hughes and Wes Keller also spoke on the floor against adding another unfunded mandate for school districts, exposing young children to problematic material and said the bill would not solve the problems. Hughes, however, ultimately voted yes on the bill.

Rep. Mike Hawker said the bill imposes an inappropriate burden and additional liability on teachers who are not professional psychologists.

“They are not behavioral health specialists. They are educators and we are demanding that they be something they are not and are not trained to be,” Hawker said.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, gets a congratulatory hug from Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, after the house passes House Bill 44. Tarr first brought "Erin's Law" to the legislature last year. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, gets a congratulatory hug from Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, after the house passes House Bill 44. Tarr first brought “Erin’s Law” to the legislature last year. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Charisse Millett said almost half of the state’s school districts already teach sexual abuse prevention in grades K through 12. The bill also includes prevention efforts against dating violence, and gives parents the option of excusing their children from either. Millett acknowledged that parents who perpetrate sexual violence may be the ones who opt their children out.

“This may not be the linchpin that solves the epidemic, however we know that every victim matters. If we can save one child, one teenager, I think we’ve done our job,” Millett said.

She also agreed with critics who said her bill was not perfect.

“I’m not shaming anyone. I respect every single person’s vote. I understand your concerns, I get it. This is not a perfect bill, but let’s not let perfect get in the way of good,” Millett said.

The bill passed 34-6, with Republican Reps. Hawker, Craig Johnson, Keller, Lance Pruitt, Saddler, and Wilson voting no. It’s in the Senate now.

In January, Gov. Bill Walker called for Erin’s Law to be on his desk, and said last Thursday it’s still a high priority. At a press conference, he said he’d consider including it in a potential special legislative session.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to clarify who voted no on the bill. 

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