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Sex education bill loses its momentum, dies in Nevada Senate

Updated Friday, May 24, 2013 | 7 p.m.

Sun coverage

A controversial bill that would have updated and standardized sex education curriculum across the state won’t advance any farther after it died in the Senate Friday.

Supporters framed the bill as a common sense update to the state’s sex education policy, but it became mired in heated rhetoric about what exactly would be changed.

The bill passed the Assembly on a 26-15 party line vote in April and needed final approval from the Senate.

On Friday, Sen. Debbie Smith, D–Sparks, moved the bill from the agenda to the secretary’s desk, meaning it won’t come back up for a vote, effectively killing its progress. Senate Democrats said they met jointly in caucus to decide not to take up the bill.

"It was not an easy decision and not one that was taken lightly," said Michael Luce, Senate Democratic Caucus director.

A source familiar with the Senate's decision said Gov. Brian Sandoval would likely veto the bill, so some senators did not want to "take the heat" for the vote.

Overriding a veto would require a two-thirds vote, and they didn’t have the vote.

Sandoval Chief of Staff Gerald Gardner said that was not the case.

“That was a legislative decision,” he said.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said the bill didn't go far enough and that Clark County School District does most of the things required in the bill.

"We're not into symbolic acts," he said.

The revelation sparked an immediate outcry on social media from supporters of the bill, including Nevada chapters of Planned Parenthood, which helped craft the legislation, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Rumors flew through the Legislature and on social media on Friday about who killed the bill, and a blame game quickly ensued.

Democrats said progressive groups that canvassed legislative districts advocating for the bill in a door-to-door campaign inadvertently inflamed rumors and falsities about the sensitive subject of sex education, sparking an unwarranted backlash against the bills.

Others alleged that Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, killed the bill. Both senators are Mormon.

But at least three other non-Mormon senators also had concerns about the bill, said a source familiar with Senate negotiations about the bill.

Social media attacks on Jones and Denis prompted several sharp exchanges between lobbyists and staffers, who were upset that the senators were unfairly pilloried for their religion when other Southern Nevada senators had concerns as well.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats did not disclose who supported or opposed the bill, protecting their members from scrutiny and criticism.

Supporters of the bill were told that several Democratic members had concerns and that a unanimous bloc of Democratic senators decided to table the bill.

"I've heard all kinds of stories, but this was a caucus decision," said Elisa Cafferata of Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada.

She said the bill was only about doing something to protect the health of young people. She vowed to look for another way to pass the bill, even if it means returning during the 2015 legislative session to try again.

Critics warned that the bill would serve to push the agenda of Planned Parenthood, especially in regards to abortion, and would disconnect sex education from morality and community concerns.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman David Bobzien previously said the criticisms didn’t align with what’s actually in the bill, which would update the state’s sex education law from the 1980s and put the state’s Council to Establish Standards for Public Schools in charge of developing sex education standards that would then be crafted into actual classroom policy by local school boards.

After an Assembly floor session Friday afternoon, Bobzien said he was “disappointed” the effort failed.

He remained optimistic that sex education reform would pass in a future session and noted that this year’s bill fared better than 2011 effort. Until then, he said, there will continue to be gaps in what’s being taught to students.

“Students who are experiencing that gap right now are being denied the information they need to make healthy decisions,” he said.

While advocates and proponents of the bill angrily decried the bill's death, others tried to view the issue in context of other progressive-supported legislation.

"We're disappointed, but we got four of our top five priorities this year," said Stacey Shinn, lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "In the big picture, we got a lot of progressive policy."

Shinn cited support for Senate Joint Resolution 13, a same-sex marriage constitutional amendment; Senate Joint Resolution 15, removing the mining industry's taxation provision from the constitution; Senate Bill 321, enacting a "Homeowners Bill of Rights"; and Senate Bill 303, allowing for driver privilege cards for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

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  1. The "non-judgmental" left is at it again. Making an issue of a politicians religion as a way of intimidation. Mormon, schmormon. Who cares? Denis & Jones decided, for whatever reasons, to oppose more government pencil-pushing unelected and unaccountable bureaucratic drones from interfering with the method parents use to broach sensitive subjects in the raising of their children. Now, if those two Dumbocrats would simply learn to carry that over to most every law they propose, we'd all be better for it.