Alternative Erin's Law bill gets first hearing

Juneau district hasn't yet talked implementation
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, right, gives a impassioned presentation on SB 37 to the Senate Education Committee at the Capitol on Thursday. The bill, sometimes referred to as Erin's Law, is aimed a reducing sexual abuse and and increasing sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts in public schools. Lauren Rasmussen, a member of Sen. McGuire's staff, is seen at left.

A version of Erin’s Law that includes mandatory classes on dating violence prevention for teens had its first hearing Wednesday.

 

There are four Erin’s Law bills in the Legislature right now — two sponsored by Democrats and two by Republicans. The one heard Wednesday is sponsored by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and also includes an opt-out option for parents.

Erin’s Law is inspired by childhood sexual assault survivor Erin Merryn and is being adopted by states across the country. The bill would compel Alaska districts to implement age-appropriate curricula surrounding sexual abuse prevention.

Similar legislation came close to passing last session, and is one of few bills that have gotten a shoutout — twice — from Gov. Bill Walker, as recently as his Choose Respect speech last week.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, is sponsoring the other Erin’s Law bill in the Senate. That bill has had two hearings.

Just like in those hearings, representatives of districts from across the state said the legislation is a good idea, but spoke out against another unfunded mandate in Thursday’s Senate Education committee hearing of McGuire’s bill. There’s no fiscal note on the bill, which means the cost of Erin’s Law curricula and teacher training falls on individual districts.

One person testifying asked that the Legislature put its money where its mouth is and not just pass this bill for a “feel-good moment.”

Juneau School District Teaching and Learning Director Ted Wilson said district administration has “not had any conversation” about implementation of Erin’s Law. Other Alaska school districts have adopted their own, local version of the law.

“After it didn’t pass (the Legislature) last year, with all the other things they gave us to think about, we just let that one sit until they decided they were going to do something with it,” Wilson said by phone Thursday.

Last year, the Legislature mandated districts implement a teacher evaluation system, an option for students to test out of certain classes, and electronic state testing — directives that “didn’t come with a financial note, we’ll say that,” he said.

The district has had to pay teachers stipends to work in groups on the different projects, as well as some related teacher training, he said. 

In this budget climate — especially with the cut schools took Thursday in Senate Finance — Gardner said after Thursday’s hearing she doesn’t predict any Erin’s Law legislation will pass this session.

“I’m afraid coupled with the massive cuts that districts are looking at in their budget, all this stuff might be out of the question for districts,” she said.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, a sponsor of one of the House’s Erin’s Law bills, has begun a countdown. She and the House minority released a statement this week alerting the Legislature that there’s only 20 days left to do what she thinks is the right thing.

Tarr pointed out that none of the Erin’s Law bills have advanced past their first committee assignments.

“Resolutions that don’t do anything in the real world sail through this Legislature, yet we can’t pass legislation to protect children from abusers,” she said in the statement. “Erin’s Law has been passed in 19 other states and Alaska should be 20th. We have 20 days left. It’s time.”

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