The State Senate heard some intense debate Tuesday on a bill that would require school districts to teach abstinence education, but not the benefits of contraception.
By doing so, SB 237 aims to repeal many provisions of the Healthy Youth Act, which was signed into law by Governor Jim Doyle in 2010.
It was standing room only in the small hearing room where Senator Mary Lazich, (R) New Berlin, presented her bill to the Senate Committee on Education, as a measure to restore local control of schools.
"This bill allows local communities to customize their human growth and development programs to their unique needs," said Sen. Lazich.
While the bill doesn't force schools to discuss contraception, it does force them to present abstinence as both the preferred behavior for teens and as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Democratic Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee couldn't let that go.
"You can say, yes its the most effective way, but its not the only, there are other ways in order to be sexually safe and prevent yourself from STD's, from pregnancy," said Sen. Larson.
More than a dozen people from the overflow crowd spoke out against the bill, which Assembly Democrat Tamara Grigsby called a partisan, radical piece of legislation.
"It returns us to an era of don't ask, don't tell education policy for Wisconsin's youth and that's disturbing," said Rep. Grigsby.
An adolescent medical physician from Milwaukee urged members of the committee to stop the bill from going forward.
"The only thing I can hope to do to is prevent future pregnancies and prevent sexually transmitted diseases from coming," said Dr. Paula Cody. "So, we need to start young, we need to start often and it needs to be medically accurate."
But, there was an equal amount of support for the bill from abstinence education advocates.
One was Clare Stiennon, a high school senior at St. Ambrose Academy in Madison.
"The current system assumes that the majority of teenagers are not capable of abstinence," said Stiennon. "This is underestimating the ability of teens to rise to a challenge when they see the benefits."
"I can tell you that from my Madison community, early sexual activity amongst children is very significantly reduced and abstinence training works," testified Syte Reitz.
The Education Committee heard testimony for more than three hours today, but did not vote on the issue.
That will come at a later date, still to be determined.