With no votes to spare, a bill that would let public high school students take part in a national survey on sexual risks won approval Tuesday in the Louisiana House.
The vote was 53-40, the minimum number of yes votes needed to clear the House.
The measure, House Bill 402, next faces action, and an uncertain future, in the state Senate.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, pleaded with her colleagues to approve the measure as a way of combatting Louisiana’s high rankings for teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and other problems.
Smith, sponsor of the bill, often cites statistics that show the state ranks tops in the nation for primary and secondary syphilis for teens age 15-19; second for chlamydia and second for gonorrhea.
“If you don’t feel this is right then you need to come up with some other solutions,” she said. “But I can tell you, we have no other solutions.”
The surveys are crafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They are aimed at detecting use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco as well as collecting information on student nutrition and physical activity. However, Louisiana bans high school students from being asked questions about their sexual practices.
Georgia is the only other state of 42 that use the surveys that prohibits questions on sexual risks.
Smith said there are ample safeguards to the biennial quizzes.
“It is a voluntary survey,” she said. “Parents may opt out. Students are not identified. Parents can request to see the questions.”
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, praised the legislation.
“I believe doing something toward identifying these problems is a good thing,” Marcelle said. “And if you do nothing, you may just be part of the problem.”
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, criticized the bill.
“What I am concerned about is where does this ultimately lead? “Is it sex education?” he asked.
Smith replied, “We have tried sex education in this body. It does not pass.”
Johnson disputed the need for a state role on student sexual practices. “I think it is the role for the parents in the state,” he said.
But Rep. Thomas Carmody Jr., R-Shreveport, rattled off a long list of troubling statistics for his home area of Caddo Parish, including No. 3 of 64 parishes for teen births.
“Where would it hurt to at least have questions asked of our students, to try to help them understand the consequences of their behavior?” Carmody asked.
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