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Ducey signs new law changing sex-ed rules, other measures
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Ducey signs new law changing sex-ed rules, other measures

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PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey penned his name Friday to a scaled-back bill on sex education after vetoing an earlier version.

The new version contains some of what was in the bill the Republican governor rejected in April, including an absolute ban on sex education of any kind before fifth grade.

Parents will need to affirmatively opt in to such classes for their children. Until now, the instruction was provided unless a parent opted out.

Other measures that got Ducey’s signatures Friday include:

Creating a special tax category to allow owners of small businesses to escape the voter-approved income tax surcharge on earnings over $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples to fund K-12 education.

Allowing courts to terminate a man’s parental rights if he raped a woman and the child was born as a result.

Permitting pharmacists to dispense hormonal contraceptives to women without first getting a prescription from a doctor.

Requiring the Arizona Biomedical Research Centre to provide grants for clinical trials on the safety and efficacy of using marijuana for medical purposes.

Establishing requirements for any plans adopted by the health department about prioritizing who gets what treatment in times of crisis.

Prohibiting election officials from sending out early ballots unless someone has first requested one.

1 of 4 states with opt-in rule

Ducey, in signing the sex-ed measure, said Arizona joins four other states with such an opt-in provision.

There also are specific requirements that any new or revised course on sex education be made publicly available for at least 60 days, with at least two public hearings before adoption.

It also says that any school that offers sex education must make the curricula available for parental review, both online and in person, at least two weeks before any instruction is offered.

“Parents should have the right to know their children are learning in school,” Ducey wrote. “This is a no-brainer piece of legislation that protects our children from learning materials that aren’t suited for them. Every family has their own priorities for their children’s education, and parents should weigh in.”

There are changes from the bill Ducey previously rejected.

The new version spells out that the ban on sex education prior to fifth grade does not preclude schools from providing “age and grade-appropriate classroom instruction regarding child assault awareness and abuse prevention.” Ducey worried that the original language would be “misinterpreted” as blocking such lessons.

Also gone is a bid by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, to require an entirely separate signed permission any time there would be a discussion about AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it, even when parents already agreed to let their children participate in sex education classes.

That section had alarmed some who worried that students, including LGBTQ students, unable to get their parents to agree to that separate approval, would not be able to get their questions answered.

But the changes still left several lawmakers dissatisfied.

Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said the measure is still too broad. He said the wording targets not just sex education but other parts of the curriculum.

For example, he cited the Shakespeare tale of Romeo and Juliet. “That has to do with sexuality,” he said.

History lessons also could be affected, Navarrete said, such as discussion of the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York City that led to the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement.

Even talking about the U.S. Supreme Court Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage also would be off limits, he said.

That did not bother supporters of the measure. Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said parents have a right to know what kind of information is being presented to their children, and to have that information before it comes up in the classroom.

“Once that information is in front of the child, you can’t extract it,” she said. “So the parent is concerned and would like to know ahead of time. And I support that.”

Barto said the bill will “protect families from over-reaching education boards.”

Tax surcharge

The change in the tax code fulfills Ducey’s promise to protect the owners of small businesses from having to pay their share of a new voter-approved income tax surcharge to fund K-12 education.

Proposition 208 levies an additional 3.5% on taxable income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing jointly. That also includes the owners of businesses organized in a way so their companies pay no taxes, with all the earnings after all expenses are paid flowing through to the owners as taxable income. Any of those net earnings above the cutoffs would have been subject to the surcharge.

Lawmakers cannot repeal the voter-approved measure. So the new law does an end-run of sorts, creating a new tax category for small businesses as an option for owners, setting the tax rate at the same 2.5% flat rate that legislators separately approved for individuals.

Legislative budget analysts say this change could trim more than $200 million from the possible $940 million the initiative would otherwise raise.

Backers of the initiative already said they will ask voters to overturn not only this new law but separate measures approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature to impose a 2.5% flat tax and to protect other high-earning individuals from the full effect of Proposition 208. They need to collect 118,823 valid signatures on petitions by Sept. 28 to put the tax cut on the November 2022 ballot.

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