A tipster has provided me a copy of an amendment drafted for inclusion (at the 11th hour) as special language in a state Education Department appropriation bill. It says: "STATE FUND RESTRICTIONS. No state funds shall be used for the purchase or dispensing of contraceptives or abortifacients in public schools. No state funds shall be used for abortion referral in public schools. Any programs in the public schools that are offered or staffed by Department of Education employees shall comply with these restrictions and those contained in Ark. Code Section 6-18-709."
Well. Sen. Gilbert Baker, father of, what, eight, and a dedicated Religious Righter, was said to be behind this surreptitious little stinker. It will be taken up in Joint Budget, which he co-chairs. I asked him if he was behind this.
"No, there is some language that apparently was agreed to during negotiations on the cig tax, (I was not in that loop), that assured current law would be followed related to abortion and contraceptive funding."
So the web is tangled. If not Baker, who? The governor? I have a question in to that office. The state Education Department said it did not approve of this special language and had no role in its drafting.
And here's the wrinkle. If Baker is telling the truth, he was told wrong by whoever is pushing this no-condoms agenda. The existing law does NOT prohibit distribution of contraceptives in schools, as this amendment would seemingly do. State funds are most assuredly used in every school in Arkansas and thus any distributions there would seem to be outlawed by this amendment. If this is only to put a ban on newly funded programs, it reads a great deal more broadly than that. And why should any new programs be further restricted than existing law?
The existing law says that school clinics may be established by school boards and that, if they distribute contraceptives, they may do so only after written parental permission.
The Education Department is rounding up information on what, if any, school clinics may still exist that dispense condoms. The Huckabee administration did all it could to end any family planning help everywhere in state government, rolling back advancements of the Elders-Clinton era.
Did Beebe really agree to a stealth law to prohibit condom distribution even by school districts willing to do so and with full knowledge and permission of parents?
UPDATE: Matt Decample, the governor's spokesman, said the governor had no role in the special languageI described. He said discussions during the course of the tobacco taxconcerned assurances that any new money would be spent under terms of existing law -- with restrictions on, but no prohibition of, spending on contraceptives in schools. "The governor made no agreeemtn related to contraceptives, outside of current law. There are detailed regsulations already in place that must be followed. We have no desire to change those."
That seemed to be Baker's understanding. Perhaps this amendment's wording is simply inartful and not intended to do what it appears to do, ban contraceptives in schools. But given the attacks and fanciful legal arguments the Religious Right has waged on family plannings issues through the years, I think it would be far safer to be sure that the amendment says no more than it needs to say: expenditures shall comply with Code Section 6-18-703. Period.
Perhaps this whistle blowing will catch someone's attention.