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House Bill 456 Revisited: Reject Bad Bills and Disingenuous Defenders

Over the weekend, I listened to the nearly three hours of testimony about HB 456 and came away both inspired by the passion of young people who spoke the truth and disillusioned by adults who seemed almost incapable of it. As the testimony went on, it became increasingly clear that the Montana Legislature should reject this ill-conceived, poorly-written mess. Instead of pandering to the Jeff Laszloffys of the world, the Montana Legislature should do what’s right for Montana students: allow teachers and health professionals to educate them.

The Bill is Poorly Worded

If passed, this bill will make class discussion in Social Studies and English impossible. Hell, math is probably imperiled because students are often exposed to the suggestive wiles of “multiplying.”

It’s that bad. The bill requires that schools notify parents 48 hours in advance and get permission before any “instruction of any type that involves human sexual education, human sexuality issues” takes place in the classroom. It’s hard to imagine a curricular area that wouldn’t be impacted by this incredibly vague language. Would a science teacher need to pause and get permission before discussing the reproductive system? Would a history teacher need to pause and get permission before discussing ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia? Would an English teacher need to pause and get permission before discussing Romeo and Juliet?

Given the bill’s incredibly poor wording, they absolutely would. Once again, it appears that the Montana GOP’s only job creation program is creating jobs for lawyers and the judicial system, which will soon be filled with frivolous cases. Don’t believe me? Just look at Helena, where zealots have filed two lawsuits without merit in the just the past year.

Certainly, someone should have paused before presenting this bill.

The Bill Violates Local Control

This bill is nearly identical to two other bills this session in which a local minority who lost a decision wants to impose their will via statewide legislation. Just like the stream access bill and Missoula anti-discrimination bill, proponents, who frequently trumpet the cry of local control are ignoring their principles simply because they lost. Rather than pursuing local democratic action, which takes energy rather than ideology, they’re hoping the big, bad state will do the work for them.

Montana has a proud, important tradition of local control of schools. We don’t have state-mandated curriculum and we don’t impose the vision of Helena politicians and bureaucrats on local schools. Who’s best positioned to deal with thorny issues of health education? The local officials who are closest to the people in their communities.

The Proponents Misrepresented the Truth

Jeff Laszloffy, professional provocateur for personal profit and head of the Montana Family Foundation, lied to the committee, suggesting that the large meetings were only attended by opponents to the bill, which is absolutely untrue. There were hundreds of Helena parents, students, and teachers who testified to the Board in favor of the proposed curriculum.

Mykal Wilkerson, the wife of former School Board member Trevor Wilkerson, and the person who has clearly most enjoyed her moment in the spotlight, lied about condom distribution at Helena High.Mrs. Wilkerson claimed that defective condoms (stapled with cards attached) were distributed to over 300 freshman students by the school. The truth? Some senior students threw them on the ground around the school as a senior prank and school staff members quickly gathered them up and threw them away.

Many of the Helena proponents of the bill asserted that they represented a huge majority of the local community, a statement that’s absolutely false and unsupported. If they’re right, one has to wonder why it’s the same small, loud group of people who appear in frivolous lawsuits, interviews on Fox News, and book-banning meetings. Though they’re fond of calling themselves the “Silent Majority,” a more apt title would seem to be the “Disgruntled Dozen.”

P.S.: Nixon was a bad guy.

It’s a good general rule that when people have to lie to make their argument, it’s a bad argument. I can’t help but question the integrity and motives of people who were willing to lie to legislators to advance their agenda.

We Should Trust Our Teachers, Administrators, and Boards

Teachers are professionals who have chosen their careers because they believe in educating children. Instead of demonizing them and fear mongering, we should trust that they will make educationally appropriate decisions for their classes. If they violate that trust or go outside the bounds of their curriculum inappropriately, local boards and administrators can–and should–take action.

Planned Parenthood Provides Vital Services

A final, disastrous component of this bill is that it would prohibit any abortion service provider from offering education in schools, effectively removing Planned Parenthood from the schools, despite the fact that 97% of the work that Planned Parenthood does is prevention and education. As so many of the articulate teenagers noted, students desperately need medically-accurate information about sexual health to prevent disease, abuse, and pregnancy. Banning Planned Parenthood might make a good sound bite for the radical right, but it makes for incredibly poor policy for children.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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