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Schools in Wisconsin that teach sex education would be required to promote abstinence and marriage under a bill passed by the state Senate Wednesday night on a party-line vote.

The controversial Republican-backed legislation would dismantle a new state law passed by Democrats last year, which requires schools that offer sex education to include information about contraceptives. The new measure wouldn't ban teaching about contraception, but it would require schools offering sex ed to stress abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"We are trying to back away from the bill passed last year that we feel mandated sex ed that was too nonjudgmental, too explicit and at too young an age," said Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.

During Wednesday night's floor debate, Democrats repeatedly slammed the bill as irresponsible and short-sighted. They accused the GOP of pushing a plan that would not give Wisconsin schoolchildren the information they need to make responsible choices.

"What we're about to do is take a huge step back," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. "We're taking a step back to the Flintstone era."

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said the bill showed the GOP was putting its head in the sand and warned that children would instead learn about sex from people like Kim Kardashian on reality television shows.

"This is just big government at its worst," he said.

Democrats tried to add amendments that would require sex ed include lessons with medically accurate information and birth control options. Those amendments failed on party-line votes.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, warned of a school district in northern Wisconsin that taught abstinence-only education and had the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Wisconsin.

"It did not work," he said.

The bill was amended Wednesday night on a bipartisan vote to make it clear that people could not discriminate against students based on factors such as their sexual orientation, race, gender or whether they are sexually active. The Senate backed another amendment that said sex ed courses should include information about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and HPV.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and other Republicans, was the subject of a testy and crowded public hearing last month.

Lazich on Wednesday insisted that the bill would not force abstinence-only sex ed on schools. She said it actually promotes local control.

"It's about best practices," Lazich said.

The bill would effectively repeal the measure passed by Democrats last year, the so-called Healthy Youth Act. That law says that schools choosing to offer sex education lessons must use medically accurate and age-appropriate curriculum, including information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.

The measure, SB 237, which passed the Senate on a 17-15 party line vote, now heads next to the state Assembly, where it could be taken up as soon as Thursday.

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State Government Reporter for Wisconsin State Journal