More on the great contraceptive debate. Sen. Gilbert Baker says that a potential controversy I outlined yesterday seems to have been settled by Joint Budget's special language subcommittee this morning.
The story is that religious conservatives (Family Council, etc.) believed they had an agreement from the executive branch that new tobacco tax money would not be used for spending on contraceptives in schoolo clinics. The executive branch believed that state law already prohibited such spending -- on "contraceptives or abortifacients." That wasn't good enough for the religious lobby. So Sen. Baker introduced special language that he said was intended only to spell out this understanding. My reading of it was that it opened the door to go in and stop existing legal distribution of contraceptives in public school clinics. Current law allows it, but only with school board authorization and parental written consent.
Gov. Beebe made it clear yesterday he didn't want any change in existing law. So, Baker said, wording acceptable to the Health Department and Education Department was substituted on distribution of "abortifacients" (forms of birth control that are believed to work after fertilization). Then. wording was added to reference existing Arkansas code, redundant and less acceptable to the administration, but approved by the committee.
Baker said he had said he had no role in this yesterday (though his name was on the amendment I cited), because I had asked him about "condoms" not "contraceptives." The word condom doesn't appear in the amendment, though that's the primary contraceptive distributed when schools have health clinics.
Baker says this is status quo legislation. I hope that's so.