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For fifth time, Mass. senators will vote to update school sex education guidelines

Busts in the Mass. Senate Chamber on display include (from left) President George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, U.S. Rep. Charles Sumner and President Abraham Lincoln.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Busts in the Mass. Senate Chamber on display include (from left) President George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, U.S. Rep. Charles Sumner and President Abraham Lincoln.

Massachusetts Senators will vote on an update to school sex education guidelines this week — for the fifth time.

We're coming off a quiet week at the Statehouse due to February school vacation. But it is a new week and lawmakers are going to be back in action.

Senators are considering updating school sex ed guidelines. Reporter Chris Lisinksi of the State House News Service explains why lawmakers are considering the overhaul and what we know about the content of the bill.
Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: This is something that's very often referred to as the Healthy Youth Act, for some of our more dedicated listeners who have been around the block a few times. And as [it was] noted, this is going to be the fifth time. This has come up in the Senate five times now in five consecutive two-year lawmaking sessions.

This bill would update the guidelines for districts that opt into teaching sex education, giving them new topics. They need to go over new instructions on how to broach topics like human anatomy, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, ensuring that the material is inclusive of LGBTQ identities, and covers consent.

Obviously, the fact that the Senate has had to vote on this four times previously confirms for us that this has never found the same kind of traction in the House. Senators are going to be hoping that the fifth time is the charm, which is not exactly how the saying goes, but could always prove to be true.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: It's just remarkable that Senate lawmakers have attempted to remodel the sex education framework four times over the last decade, with the House resisting each time. Now, I assume that any debate over sex ed could be a very different conversation if you and I were located elsewhere in the country, but why, in a largely liberal state like Massachusetts, has state House leadership avoided this issue?

It's honestly a little bit hard to nail down because the opposition hasn't been vocal. It's not like the branches are controlled by different political parties, and those in one branch are very vocally posturing why they don't like something.

Several years ago, some House sponsors said that they had heard from their colleagues that their colleagues were skittish and were worried that updating sex education guidelines would effectively encourage young people to be sexually active. But again, that was a few years ago. And House Democrats, who certainly have the votes to muscle through anything they want to, really haven't gone out of their way to explain what their concerns are.
Last week, a group of Greenfield residents urged the City Council to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. No action was taken. The matter could be considered next month. But this is just one example of a growing list of cities that have adopted similar resolutions. And yeah, Chris, world politics may be outside the scope of the Statehouse. But I wonder, along with all the other issues that they consider, like sex ed, have there been calls for Beacon Hill lawmakers to adopt cease-fire resolutions?

I don't think that the calls have been particularly organized at this point, but it is something that is within the scope of Beacon Hill. Go back to last fall, when the war was still very fresh, and at least the Senate went out of its way to adopt a resolution stating that the Israeli people have an inalienable right to defend themselves against acts of terrorism, and that the Senate stands with Israel condemning the attacks by Hamas.

So, state lawmakers on Beacon Hill have waded into this territory before, and it certainly seems reasonable that they could be asked to do so again with a different message this time around.

Speaking of larger issues, we've now passed the last day to register to vote in time for the Super Tuesday primary. That deadline was Saturday, but for those who are registered, early voting in Massachusetts has begun. What should voters keep in mind between now and March 5th?

As always, voters should keep in mind that if they're going to be filling out these ballots by mail, they should try and get them in earlier rather than later, allow enough time for that to arrive. And I believe that it's just the presidential primary that is on the ballot here in March. We will have our own state primaries later in the fall, of course, and state and federal races will be combined into the mega November ballot.

And those so-called independent voters, or unenrolled voters in a party — they can vote in the Massachusetts presidential primary by choosing that party ballot to vote their choice, and then afterwards they remain unenrolled. I think that's correct, too.

That is indeed! Yup. You can pick basically which party's primary you want to weigh in on, as long as you are independent or unenrolled without having to register with a party.

It happens very differently in many other states.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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