A bill that would allow public high school students to take part in a national survey on sexual risks was approved Wednesday by the Louisiana House Education Committee.
The vote was 7-4, and the measure, House Bill 402, next faces action in the full House.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and sponsor of the bill, said the surveys would provide vital data to help combat teen pregnancy and other problems, which are among the highest in the nation in Louisiana.
Smith said 42 states take part in the survey, which is crafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only Louisiana and Georgia ban sex-related questions.
“Let us bring ourselves into the 21st century,” she told the committee in closing arguments.
Smith also emphasized that students and parents can opt out of the survey.
Opponents questioned whether the information would really make a dent in trimming sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers.
“I do know that it is completely intrusive,” said Victoria Kelly, who lives in Baton Rouge.
Kelly said the CDC questions include at what age students had their first sexual experience, how many sex partners they have had and whether they took steps to avoid pregnancy.
Will Hall, who represents the Louisiana Baptist Office of Public Policy, said students are also asked how they identify themselves sexually, such as heterosexual.
“I am not sure how that is going to help with the medical needs of students,” Hall said.
The document, called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, is administered every other year by the state Department of Education.
It is aimed in part at detecting use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco as well as information about student nutrition and physical activity.
Backers discounted comments that high school students would be embarrassed by the questions.
“This is not extraordinary at all,” said Clare Stagg, an LSU student. “I don’t think any of my peers would see it as intrusive.”
Smith said Louisiana ranks No. 1 in the nation for primary and secondary syphilis for teens age 15-19; second nationally for chlamydia; and second for gonorrhea.
She said East Baton Rouge Parish ranks first in the state for teen births and Jefferson Parish second.
“When children don’t have the right information, then I assure you the risks are being taken,” Smith said.
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