Erin’s Law Stuck In Senate Education Committee

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testified last year in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)
Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testified last year in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The House passed a version of Erin’s Law on Saturday. Now, three versions of the child sexual abuse prevention bill are stuck in the Senate Education Committee as the legislature winds down for the year. Majority leadership has indicated there’s no rush to pass the bill.

Download Audio

Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson said deciding how to educate children about sexual abuse prevention should be done on a local community level, and not mandated by state law.

House Bill 44 would require public schools to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

Wilson says the legislature should be more concerned with what resources schools have when something comes up.

“So we have a 7-year-old who’s been mistreated at home, comes and says something to the teacher about it. Do we have the safety nets to be able to – and the people we need – to find out exactly what happened? Or does that child get taken immediately from the home, spiraling the family downward for something that might have been innocently said and nothing happened. Children say things,” Wilson said.

Other opponents included Republican Reps. Dan Saddler, Shelley Hughes and Wes Keller. They spoke on the floor against adding another unfunded mandate for school districts, exposing young children to problematic material and said the bill would not solve the problems.

Rep. Mike Hawker said the bill imposes an inappropriate burden and additional liability on teachers who are not

“Professional psychologists. They are not behavioral health specialists,” Hawker said. “They are educators and we are demanding that they be something they are not and are not trained to be.”

The bill’s sponsor Republican Rep. Charisse Millett said almost half of the state’s school districts already teach sexual abuse prevention in grades K-12. The bill also includes prevention efforts against dating violence, and gives parents the option of excusing their children from either. Millett acknowledges that parents who are the perpetrators of sexual violence may be the ones who opt their children out.
“This may not be the linchpin that solves the epidemic, however we know that every victim matters,” Millett said. “If we can save one child, one teenager, I think we’ve done our job.”

Millett also agreed with critics who said her bill was not perfect.

“I’m not shaming anyone. I respect every single person’s vote. I understand your concerns, I get it. This is not a perfect bill, but let’s not let perfect get in the way of good,” she said.

The bill passed 34-6. It’s in the Senate now.

In January, Gov. Bill Walker called for Erin’s Law to be on his desk, and said last Thursday it’s still a high priority. At a press conference, he said he’d consider including it in a potential special legislative session.