By Daniel Stefanski |
Arizona Legislative Republicans are working overtime to protect young students from what they could read or hear in their district schools, though these efforts are opposed by Democrats and have little chance at becoming law.
SB 1323, sponsored by Senator Jake Hoffman, “classifies, as a class 5 felony, a violation of the prohibition on a public school referring students to or using any sexually explicit material in any manner,” according to the purpose provided by the State Senate.
The prohibition of “sexually explicit material” is found in ARS 15-120: “….includes textual, visual or audio materials or materials accessed via any other medium that depict any of the following – sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or ultimate sexual acts.” There are exemptions from this prohibition, which include the school requiring written parental consent for the student to be referred to or use the materials.
As with most pieces of legislation dealing with children’s education and schools, the vote in the Senate came down along party lines. 16 Republicans voted in favor, while 13 Democrats vote against (Senator Juan Mendez did not vote).
The bill previously passed the Senate Judiciary and the Rules Committees with partisan 4-3 votes.
SB 1323 provoked a heated debate on both sides of the aisle when members of the Senate cast their votes. Democrat Senator Anna Hernandez bemoaned what she perceived as the lack of due process for the bill, arguing that there was no difference between a teacher presenting the materials to kindergarteners or high school seniors, or that the legislature was not making a clear line for teachers who were intentionally versus unintentionally making the material available to students. She stated that the state was taking a “huge step forward to criminalize the speech of a teacher who refers to a book,” and she wondered aloud why Arizona has a teacher shortage with these kinds of bills being proposed by Republican legislators.
Democrat Senator Christine Marsh agreed with her colleague, making the case that the language in the existing law was already incredibly vague on prohibitions, and that the added criminal penalty in Hoffman’s proposal was a huge problem. She echoed Senator Hernandez’s comments about the teacher shortage in the Grand Canyon State, saying that “educators are already finding the working and learning conditions in Arizona to be untenable,” and that “mistakes could expose a person to serious felony or prison time.”
Republican Senator Anthony Kern took strong exception to what he was hearing from Democrats, claiming that this bill protects children and that “teachers are leaving because they are being intimidated by the left for their Christian values.” He noted that “it is not naïve to think that our children are being targeted by our current school board education system to explicit pornography and explicit materials.”
Democrat Senator Mitzi Epstein pushed back against the Republicans’ assertions that explicit pornography was being shown to students in Arizona public schools, saying that Arizona “already has laws on the books against showing pornography to children.” She called the bill “overreach” and “ridiculous.”
Bill sponsor, Jake Hoffman told his fellow colleagues that his bill was about “stopping the sexualization of Arizona’s children,” and admitted that the definition of “sexually explicit” was pulled from the obscenity section of the U.S. Criminal Code, which was adopted in the 1960s – and hasn’t been amended since 2001. He revealed that when the Legislature previously considered a bill to enshrine into law the definitions of “sexually explicit materials,” he had to obtain permission from DPS to show pictures from a book for ten-year-olds in a committee hearing (since the proceedings were being broadcasted). He blasted Democrats for their votes against the bill, saying that “every parent in Arizona should be ashamed of the red (no) votes,” and he predicted that Governor Hobbs would aid “in the sexualization of children in Arizona” by vetoing this legislation.
Senator Sonny Borrelli presented a thought-provoking question from a constituent for his colleagues to consider when casting their votes: “Why is talking about sex with adults at work considered sexual harassment but talking with kindergarteners and middle school and grammar school kids considered necessary?” He called the Democrats’ stance on this proposal a “double standard” that was “completely off the charts.”
Senators Anthony Kern, Janae Shamp, Justine Wadsack, and Representatives Joseph Chaplik and Jacqueline Parker co-sponsored Hoffman’s legislation. Representatives from the Center for Arizona Policy and Arizona Free Enterprise Club supported the bill, and representatives from the Arizona Education Association, Save Our Schools Arizona, American Civil Liberties Union of AZ, and AZ Attorneys for Criminal Justice opposed its movement through the legislative process.
SB 1323 now awaits its fate in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.