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is trumpeting “Texas Children First,” it’s heartening there’s someone in the Legislature looking out for kids in the South Pacific. ELEMENTARY SEX ED House Bill 311 Texas boasts the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. Now one lawmaker has decided to make it even harder for kids to get accurate information about sex. House Bill 311 would require school districts to obtain written consent from parents before students learn about sex. Currently parents must be notified of the basic content of sex education classes and can remove their kids from any part of the course, but they don’t sign any permission slips. Rep. Warren Chisum says his bill is about stronger parental control. “I truly believe parents need to be involved in education, especially these kinds of courses,” Chisum says. Others worry that an opt-in policy would be an administrative hassle for schools and might prevent some students from getting sex education simply because the note never made it home. David Wiley, a professor of health education at Texas State University, says national and Texas studies show overwhelming parental support of comprehensive sex education. About 2 percent of parents opt out of sex education for their kids, but that number increases with opt-in policies, Wiley says. Three states have opt-in policies, while 35 have opt-outs. Nearly half of new sexually transmitted disease cases occur in people between ages 15 and 24, says Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “Putting any barriers in the way of protecting our kids is bad public policy,” she says. “Many children are reluctant to talk to their parents about these issues, and putting it in their hands doesn’t seem to recognize the reality faced by parents and teens.” Chisum says parents aren’t always told what their children are being taught. “We have some evidence that maybe some school districts are trying to teach sex ed in the lower grades, sometimes even as low as kindergarten,” he says. “It’s what I’ve been told:’ If you’re imagining kindergartners putting condoms on bananas, that’s not exactly the case. In each school district, a health advisory council determines the appropriate grade levels and methods of instruction for human sexuality education. As for kindergarten sex ed, it might consist of things like learning about personal space or appropriate touching, says DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency. The board of trustees in each district decides on course materials and content, though they are required to stress abstinence. Teaching contraception and condoms is optional under Texas law. Sex ed need not be so scary. Studies show that comprehensive sex education doesn’t lead to kids having more sex. “In terms of long-term behavior change, kids who are already abstinent remain abstinent, and the kids who are sexually active tend to be safer about it,” Wiley says. IF IT AIN’T BROKE… House Bill 101 In an effort to keep Texas elections free of a voting fraud epidemic that may or may not exist, state Rep. Debbie Riddle’s House Bill 101 is one of three bills filed so far that would require voters to present multiple forms of identification at the polls. Republicans in numerous states have begun ratcheting up voter identification requirements, justifying the new rules by claiming they will stop dead people from voting, or live people from voting more than once. Critics say the new requirements are an insidious effort to throw hurdles in front of voters least likely to have multiple forms of IDpoor people. Riddle says Texas voter-registration cards are too easy to falsify, so her bill requires prospective voters to also present either one photo ID or two semiofficial documents bearing the same name. Photo ID options include a driver’s license or passport, or even a photo badge from work or a student ID. Leave them all in your other wallet? You can still vote if you’ve brought your citizenship papers and hunting license, or your pilot’s license and library card, or your divorce records and cable bill. Riddle’s bill leaves voters plenty of options to identify themselves, but assumes each citizen has ready access to multiple forms of ID. “It’s just not essential to a lot of poor people to have an ID,” says Sonia Santana of the Texas ACLU. “You’re putting up another barrier for poor people to vote:’ HB 101 is nearly identical to a 2005 bill by Rep. Mary Denny, a Flower Mound Republican, that passed the House but stalled in the Senate. This session, Republican Reps. Betty Brown of Terrell and Phil King of Weatherford have filed similar incarnations of the voter ID bill. Riddle says she has firsthand experience hearing people brag about voting multiple times and can quote numbers demonstrating the problem is widespread. But a 2006 report by the federal Election Assistance Commission concluded only that voter fraud is an ill-defined problem of uncertain scope. Most fraud is related to mail-in absentee ballots, the report said. Still, Riddle says the point is to keep our elections pure. “I don’t care if it’s only one fraudulent vote,” she says. “There are elections that are won and lost by one vote:’ The cost of a new photo ID might be enough to keep that one voter from making it to the polls. “If you ever have been a poor person living paycheck to paycheck$15 to vote? They’re going to blow it off,” Santana says. Both Riddle’s and Brown’s bills would waive the state ID fees for people who say they can’t afford them, but a 2006 voter ID law passed in Georgia was struck down by a federal judge, who ruled that even with a fee waiver, requiring the extra ID was an excessive burden. “This is simply going to dampen any enthusiasm for voter fraud,” Riddle says. “If we do not protect our ballot box, then our liberties are in peril.” continued on page 18 MARCH 9, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13