Arizona House Republicans pass bill to prohibit sexually explicit materials in schools
The Republican-controlled House passed a measure Thursday that would ban sexually explicit materials in K-12 classrooms across the state.
Rep. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican, said the bill would shield children from inappropriate content.
"This (bill) is about nothing more than protecting the innocence of Arizona children from sexually explicit materials," he said during a debate on the House floor.
House Bill 2495 bans any textual, visual or auditory classroom materials that include reference to sexual activity or conduct. The bill defines conduct as broadly as any physical contact with "genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such a person is a female, breast." It doesn't matter if that contact is made with clothed or unclothed body parts.
The bill came under fire last week for including homosexuality in the definition of sexual conduct, leading to concerns that any content about the LGBT community would be prohibited. Hoffman initially denied the accusation, but ultimately added an amendment that would remove the word shortly before presenting it to the full House.
Hoffman sounded the alarm about sexually explicit content being shown to students as young as fourth graders, and said some materials children were being referred to included titles like "Dry Humping Saves Lives". The booklet does appear on website Stop Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which says it was distributed in Oregon and "likely" other states, though it didn't list any others. The site was created by Gilbert-based Christian lobbying organization Family Watch International, which was designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group due to a history of anti-LGBT stances. Hoffman didn't respond to calls or emails to find out which districts are purportedly using this booklet and materials like it in Arizona.
Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, said she was concerned about how the ban affected all students, even those whose parents may not disapprove of sexually explicit material, like that found in literary works or sexual education programs.
"Parents have the right to determine what their kids read," she said, "but they don't have the right to determine what other children read."
An amendment by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, ensured that classical and early American literature, as well as books needed for college credit, would be allowed with parental consent. Without that parental consent, the books are prohibited by default. Schwiebert said the amendment doesn't adequately define what classical literature means. Works that are important but not yet defined as such stand to be dismissed entirely, she said.
"No one here is advocating for porn in classrooms, we are advocating for the freedom to read and question," she said.
Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, pointed out that state law already makes it a felony to show pornography to children.
All 31 Republicans in the House voted to approve the bill, which was opposed by the chamber’s Democrats. HB2495 now goes to the Senate.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.
Gloria Gomez is a senior at the University of Arizona and the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow. The university started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter killed in a 1976 car bombing.