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Parents bill of rights initiative moves ahead in Washington State Legislature

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(The Center Square) – A “parents’ bill of rights” initiative to the Legislature passed out of two legislative committees in Olympia on Friday morning.

Initiative 2081 would require a range of school materials – textbooks, curriculum and a child’s medical records – to be easily available for review by parents.

Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-Wenatchee, is the ranking minority member on the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Committee. He opened the executive session by thanking committee Chair Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, for her willingness to hold a Wednesday public hearing before his committee and the House Education Committee.

“I know we didn’t have all the time we would have wanted but we covered a lot of ground in the one hour and it was very structured and fair, and for the most part, everybody who had an opportunity to comment on the initiative got a chance to do that, so I want to compliment you.”

Many of those who hoped to testify did not get a chance to do so, expressing disappointment that much of the first half of the hearing was taken up by staff briefings and questions from Democratic majority lawmakers, leaving little time for public input.

Sen. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, voiced concerns about the I-2081 but said he would be voting yes to move it forward, noting his main concerns were about youth who may have difficult relationships with their parents.

“Whether that’s around the right of a young woman to seek reproductive healthcare, which is guaranteed in our state at any age, or the right of youth to seek access to mental health counseling, which is also guaranteed at age 13 or 14 without any parental involvement, I wanted to make sure those rights were not affected by this,” he said.

Pederson said he’ll be watching to ensure the initiative does not erode current law.

“We have heard significant concerns about how this might be used, and we’ve heard from OSPI [Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction] and school boards that they are intending to give guidance to districts that is basically the same as existing law,” he said. “It’s just organized a little bit differently, and it’s not to be read broadly to trample on other rights that have been established in statute.”

Parents and other groups that signed in to testify in support of the initiative told The Center Square their concerns are not so much about access to curriculum, but ensuring schools aren’t having conversations about sexual identity and gender issues without their knowledge, or keeping critical information about their children secret from them.

One of those who testified Wednesday during the public hearing on I-2081 was Jennifer Heine-Withee with the Family Policy Institute.

She listed stories of parents who felt their wishes were being ignored by teachers and school districts across the state, including children being taught about race, gender pronouns and sexuality.

As the committee proceedings concluded, Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, said she did have concerns, adding Democrats would be keeping a close eye on how the initiative, if passed by the Legislature, is implemented.

“So we can be sure that we come back immediately should there be interpretation by districts that does bring harm to students because that’s not what we should be doing,” she explained.

Wilson sponsored controversial legislation last year that allows homeless youth shelters to avoid notifying parents of runaway children in cases where juveniles are seeking “gender affirming treatment” or “reproductive health services.”

The committee ultimately voted to move I-2081 forward with a “do-pass” recommendation, and sent the measure on to the Rules Committee.

Later Friday morning, I-2081 was moved out of executive session in the House Education Committee with a “do-pass” recommendation.