Kansas bill limiting sex education material advances with no debate

? The Kansas Senate on Tuesday advanced without debate a bill that would make teachers criminally liable for displaying sex education material deemed inappropriate for children.

Senate Democrats were expected to voice fierce opposition to Senate Bill 56, which removes an exemption that public, private and parochial schools now enjoy from the crime of promoting material harmful to minors.

The bill was a response to a controversy last year when a middle school teacher in the Shawnee Mission school district displayed a poster which listed words, including some explicit words depicting sex acts, to describe various ways in which people show affection.

The bill was strongly opposed by many education groups who argued that it could drastically limit what material could be taught in classrooms, and some suggested it could even lead to the banning of certain books that are considered classic literature.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the main sponsor of the bill, called those arguments ridiculous.

“When you read the bill, it says that it would exclude any material that could be considered to have literary or scientific value,” she said.

Tuesday afternoon, as the Senate was working through a number of bills, most Democrats, including Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, were out of the chamber when the bill came up for debate. As a result, one senator gave an explanation of the bill, and the remaining senators advanced it to final action on a voice vote.

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she was working at her desk on an amendment to another bill at the time and assumed that others would speak in opposition to the bill.

“I heard concerns expressed and was surprised there was not someone to step up,” Francisco said. “I didn’t look around to see that most of the chairs were vacant behind me.”

Francisco also said most Democrats felt there was no way to improve the bill with amendments. “I think the best thing to do is vote it down,” she said.

The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the bill Wednesday. If it passes, it will be sent to the House for consideration.