Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sen. Dunleavy Plays Politics With Bill To Protect Kids From Sexual Predators

I'd put down a public hearing on Erin's Law today on my calendar.  5:30pm at the newly refitted Legislative Information Building.   But then I saw tweets during the day that the Senate education committee was tinkering with the bill.

At the evening hearing it sounded more like they gutted the bill.  This bill, simply, requires that schools give age appropriate instruction about inappropriate touching, what to say when someone tries to touch, and how to get help.  Most importantly, that it's not your fault and you need to tell someone so the person stops and so other kids also don't get abused.

In the Senate hearing, Sen. Dunleavy's committee made a few significant changes to Erin's Law.
  • Changed student attendance in these classes from parents opt out, to parents opt in.  That is, the original bill allowed parents to pull their kids from the classes.  The Senate changes require the parents' approval before the kids can take the classes.  
  • Changed the mandate for schools to use the program from 'shall' to 'may'. 
But I think the language that some used to describe the changes - hijacked the bill - is more accurate.  In Alaska, the title of the bill has to accurately describe what's in the bill.  That means names like "Save the Children Act" cannot be used for a bill that actually leaves kids unprotected.  That's a good thing (that the name must reflect what's in the bill.)  So, to give you a sense of the changes that took place in Tuesday's Senate education committee meeting, I offer you the title of, first, HB 44 as it was yesterday:

HB 44 Title (the original bill that has already passed the House)
"CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 44(FIN)                                                                   
"An Act relating to sexual abuse and sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts in  public schools; and relating to dating violence and abuse awareness and prevention efforts in public schools."  

[Update 12:24am: I originally put up the earliest version of the title.  This one changed to add the section on dating violence because of the efforts of the Moore's (see below.)  You can see the whole bills HB 44  and CSHB 44.]

And, second, the education committee's substitute bill title:

SCS CSHB 44(   ) Title (I don't remember any more what the SCS means for sure.  The CSHB means, committee substitute for House Bill 44)
"An Act relating to a parent's right to direct the education of a child; relating to course mastery requirements; relating to the duties of the Department of Education and Early Development; prohibiting a school district from contracting with an abortion services provider; relating to questionnaires administered in a public school; relating to the duties of school districts; relating to training for school employees and mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect; relating to physical examinations for students; relating to physical examinations for teachers; relating to sexual abuse and sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts in public schools; relating to dating violence and abuse awareness and prevention efforts in public schools; prohibiting a school district from allowing an abortion services provider to furnish course materials or provide instruction concerning sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases; relating to national criminal history record check requirements for employees of child care facilities and residential child care facilities; and repealing the requirement for secondary students to take college and career readiness assessments."

From what I understand, they added two bills [UPDATE 5/21/15: turns out it was three] into this one.  Bills that hadn't made it through the legislature.  The governor specifically asked that Erin's Law be passed, and so they took the opportunity to add their own two [three] laws into this bill.   If you read the second title, you'll notice stuff prohibiting school districts from contracting with abortion service providers, duties of school districts, physical exams of students and teachers, and on and on. 

I can't even begin to write out the testimony I heard this evening at the Minority Caucus' public hearing, nor to explain what happened at the earlier Senate education committee hearing.  Fortunately, John Arono at Alaska Commons took good notes and you can check his explanation if you like.

Like everyone who testified - mostly people who had personally been abused, had had family members abused, or worked with abused people - I can't help but feel that Sen. Dunleavy has totally trashed Erin's Law.  If he really thinks he's made minor changes, he's just ignorant.  If he realizes what he's done, he's venal.  [UPDATE May 22:  Venal is definitely the wrong word here as I explain in a more recent post.  I retract it and apologize to Sen. Dunleavy.]  Because Erin's Law would, as people testified it had in other states,  help kids recognize when inappropriate behavior is taking place, learn how to respond to such behavior, and know how to report it.  They would learn the threats of abusers - "No one will believe you."  "If you tell, I'll come back and kill you and your family." "If you tell, you will only ruin the whole family." - and know these are what abusers always say.  Learn that these are signs that you need to tell [a parent or other authority figure about.]

As people testified - and I listened to earlier testimony on this bill - they emphasized that child abuse has long lasting debilitating impacts on kids.  Without an Erin's law, kids will wait until many years later before confessing (yes, many are made to feel it's their own fault) to anyone what happened, allowing the perpetrator to molest other kids, and they usually do.  That these things devastate families and even communities.

One of the objections some legislators have made is that this is "an unfunded mandate."  That, of course, is one of the Republican buzzwords to tar legislation they don't like.  But I'd argue that not passing this bill is a huge unfunded mandate - to provide all sorts of services to the victims, to deal with the victims' loss of interest in school and life, and victims' inability to get and hold jobs later on.  And, in some cases, to victimize others themselves.

When I spent a fair amount of time at Covenant House, it soon became clear, that many, if not most of the kids there had left home because of various kinds of abuse.  The various young men that I mentored there all had histories of sexual abuse as kids.  It really screws you up.

Erin's Law is the simplest and most effective way the legislature can stop the enormous toll on Alaska kids.  Stats presented at the meeting included:  1700 kids have been abused this past school year.  April had 302 allegations of sexual abuse that, from what I can tell from the handout, reached the Office of Children's Services.  852 reports were screened by Protective Services in April.

Not providing kids with the information they need to recognize and respond to sexual predators is unconscionable.   John Arono writes:
“People were concentrating on the big issues that affected the state versus other issues that didn’t quite get to the top of the pot,” House Speaker Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) told KTOO’s Lisa Phu at the time.
If preventing hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse of children a month is on [not] one of the 'big issues' then these legislators have their priorities totally wrong.  Not only are we preventing suffering, but prevention efforts save all sorts of money in the future when we deal with the dysfunction of adults who have been abused as kids.  (And I don't mean to imply that all abused kids don't find ways to function as reasonably responsible adults, but a high proportion of people who end up in prison, were abused as kids.)

As a reporter, I took lots of notes at the public testimony.  But what was most compelling was people telling their own stories.  But, even though this was a public hearing, I felt whipping out my camera and video taping people's testimony was much too invasive.

But I did find this video of Cindy Moore whose daughter was shot by her boyfriend last June.  Cindy and her husband Butch both testified.  This will give you a sense of how important this is.  [UPDATE April 24, 2018 - Sorry, I see this video is no longer accessible.]

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

[UPDATE 12:24 am:  There will be another hearing on this bill Wednesday, May 20, 2015 in the Legislative Information Office on 4th Avenue at 11:00am. You can go in person or listen online.  Scroll down to Senate Education Committee. ]


  1. While I understand the huge importance the original bill fulfills, unfortunately Dunleavey is part of that "save the fetus, forget the child" crowd. Even if it involves safety for the child. So the importance of child safety and child education is not gonna happen unless the road to no abortions is paved and policed. While Cindy and Butch have much to offer, I'm afraid Dunleavey could care less. Dunleavey is on the automobile called the bible and he will run over children and women because choice is available.

    I tire of these crazed religious freaks.

  2. Dunleavey is a Republican being from the extreme right side of the party! Many in Alaska do not follow his beliefs!

    It is way past time Alaskans pay attention for whom they cast their votes in 2016. I truly think we are going to see a major change in who rules the roost! The majority of the Republicans in the Alaska Legislature need to be replaced!

    We saw a major change take place recently in the largest city in Alaska - Anchorage!

    A Democrat was elected as Mayor after a two-term Republican held the seat!

    The Berkowitz win is and was a start to major change in Alaska! This is going to be fun to watch!


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