Alaska News

Senator restores most of 'Erin's Law' bill, strips out politically charged extras

Alaska Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, on Wednesday unveiled a new draft of a bill to combat child sexual abuse and dating violence that rejects several controversial elements of a previous version sponsored by one of her colleagues.

House Bill 44, originally known as Erin's Law and Bree's Law but rebranded the Alaska Safe Children's Act, is aimed at getting Alaska school districts to teach students about sexual abuse and dating violence.

The state House earlier this year passed the bill making the instruction mandatory.

But in the Senate Education Committee, the chairman, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a social conservative Republican from Wasilla, changed the bill to make districts' adoption of the sexual abuse and dating violence curriculum optional. And he added controversial sections banning abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from working in schools, and forcing schools to get permission from parents before their children can participate in sexual education classes.

MacKinnon's version of the bill, introduced in a Wednesday morning hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, took out the most controversial provisions that had been inserted by Dunleavy. And it restored language in the measure requiring districts to teach about sexual abuse and dating violence, though there's a new two-year delay before that section of the bill goes into effect.

MacKinnon's version of the bill also creates a task force to recommend model curriculum and teacher training materials related to sexual abuse and dating violence.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, who's been working to pass Erin's Law since last year, said in an interview after the hearing that the new version "keeps the best parts of the bills and removes the worst parts."

She said "it's possible" she'd support MacKinnon's bill, "with a couple of clarifications."

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, who sponsored the House bill, said the new version was a pretty good compromise.

"I think the process has been difficult," Millett told finance committee members. But, she added: "I think we'll have a complete piece of legislation."

Advocates at a finance committee hearing in the afternoon urged members to move the bill forward. They also asked MacKinnon to remove one provision she held over from Dunleavy's version of the bill that stops schools from giving surveys or questionnaires to students without getting written permission from their parents.

During public testimony on the measure in the afternoon hearing, lawmakers heard from a series of Alaskans with wrenching stories about sexual abuse and dating violence. They included the parents of Bree -- Breanna Moore, who police said was shot and killed by her boyfriend on the Anchorage Hillside last summer.

Cindy Moore, Bree's mother, said at a hearing last month that Dunleavy's version of the bill had turned the original into a "junkyard." On Wednesday, her husband, Butch, told members of the finance committee that the measure had been "cleaned up very well."

If the dating violence curriculum had been in place years ago, he added, her daughter likely would have gotten a warning from one of her friends after Moore had gotten her second or third black eye: "Eventually, he's going to kill you."

The next person to testify, Sheila Lankford, told the committee that she was sexually abused by her grandfather as a child after he invited her on a walk into the woods. Lankford said she was sure her mother would immediately know something was wrong, but instead, when Lankford returned to the kitchen, "Mom asked me to peel the potatoes."

"This is the way it happens, people," Lankford said, adding that sexual abuse causes depression and rage. "No one has the moral authority to obstruct the passage of Erin's Law."

Dunleavy, who sits with MacKinnon on the finance committee, wouldn't answer questions about the changes to the bill. He asked MacKinnon during the morning hearing if the section on parental rights was "totally out of this version."

MacKinnon responded that wasn't correct.

"It depends on perspective," she said.

MacKinnon said in an interview that provisions Dunleavy introduced in his version of the bill were contained in a completely separate bill also sponsored by Dunleavy.

"He has another vehicle to discuss those issues," she said.

Public testimony on the new version of the bill continued for hours through the afternoon.

MacKinnon introduced several amendments to her version of the bill at an evening hearing, including one to tweak the purpose of the task force. Another, from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, would delay the effective date for the provision requiring schools to get parents' permission before they can administer surveys or questionnaires to students.

MacKinnon said final passage of the measure would be considered at another hearing Thursday morning.

Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at ADN and Alaska Public Media. He’s reported around the state and loves cross-country skiing.