A bill that would mandate sex education for public school students in grades seven to 12 in Orleans Parish cleared a House panel Wednesday.

The 8-6 vote in the House Education Committee followed an often-contentious hearing on the volatile topic.

The proposal next faces action in the full House.

State Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, the sponsor of the bill, said it is needed to tackle nearly out-of-control problems in New Orleans of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We have an entire generation of young people left to their own devices on sex education,” Bishop told the committee.

He said his bill did not stem from political ideology. “I’m a Christian. I’m a preacher’s kid,” he said. He said the change is backed by the Orleans Parish School Board.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee and a longtime sponsor of similar bills, said the unorthodox views of some youngsters about safe sex point up the need for the bill.

Some young women have even claimed that drinking the soft drink Mountain Dew can prevent pregnancies, Smith said.

“How are we going to stop teen pregnancies?” she asked.

Under current law, public schools can offer sex education in grades seven and above, but they are not required to do so.

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, opposed the proposal.

Mills downplayed the role of what he called so-called sex education experts who tout the need for such bills. “Remember the experts built the Titanic,” Mills said.

Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, also spoke against the measure.

Tasman said sex education in Catholic schools is taught “from the perspective of morality,” which he noted is not allowed in public schools.

He said that leads to a “contraceptive mentality” taking over in sex education courses.

Under the bill, the classes would have to start by the 2017-18 school year.

Topics covered would include pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and the responsibilities of parenthood.

Parents would have the ability to keep their children out of the classes. Sex education for students in grades three to six would be optional in New Orleans.

The bill says abstinence would be part of any instruction as the only 100 percent effective method for preventing unintended pregnancies.

The legislation calls for “comprehensive, age- and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate and evidence-informed instruction.”

LaToya Cantrell, a member of the New Orleans City Council, backed the bill. “We are in a real crisis in our city,” she said.

Lennie Ditoro, who lives in Mandeville, urged panel members to reject it. “Parents should not allow the education system to form the conscience of our children,” she said.

Last year, a bill by Smith to mandate sex education in public schools statewide was shelved on a 10-3 vote.

Bishop’s legislation is House Bill 359.

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