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Gov. Stitt vetoes bill that sought to modernize HIV/AIDS education in Oklahoma schools

OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill that would update an Oklahoma mandate requiring HIV/AIDS education in all public school districts has been vetoed by the governor.

House Bill 1018, authored by Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, sought to update the state’s mandatory curriculum which has been in place for 32 years. It would reflect changes like scientific discoveries and research.

“I think folks realize that HIV and our understanding of HIV changed dramatically over the last 32 years,” said David White, with the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund. “If we’re teaching our children about HIV, we should be teaching them a 2019 understanding and not a 1987 understanding.”

According to the bill, the instruction would include:

  • The definition of HIV and AIDS
  • How the virus is transmitted
  • How the virus is not transmitted
  • An analysis of the transmission and methods of prevention for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV, with an emphasis on abstinence from sex and intravenous drug use
  • Identification of risky behaviors and situations involving possible exposure to HIV

“The former language is very antiquated and really based in fear, and this language is based in science and in fact. It just explains how the virus is transmitted, how it’s not transmitted so that folks, when they encounter someone with HIV, they’re not afraid of shaking their hand or something,” White told News 4. “A lot of folks know that HIV is transmitted through sexual activity but when we’re facing the opioid epidemic, maybe needle sharing isn’t something they’re familiar with, so this is letting them know there are multiple ways.”

Numbers from the Oklahoma State Department of Health show 3,331 Oklahomans were living with HIV as of 2017, while 2,832 live with AIDS.

“We learn new things. This statute is over 32 years old and the curriculum is too, so we thought it would be cleaner so that’s why we did it,” Rep. McEntire told the Oklahoma House of Representatives. “Did you know that if you have a partnership where one person is positive and one is negative, the one who is negative can take one pill a day as well and practically immunize them from their partner? My kids don’t know this. I didn’t even know that, and I’m 45.”

Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell was one of 19 lawmakers in the House who voted against the bill. He said he felt the intentions of the bill were “wholly good” and well intended.

However, he noted while the curriculum would be provided by the Oklahoma Department of Education, the bill also allows schools to have the option to create their own curriculum as long as it meets certain guidelines.

“My concern as a parent is, I don’t know their interpretation of the guidelines and how they’re going to create that curriculum is going to turn out,” Rep. Russ said. “Not knowing whether they’re going to come up age-appropriate information is a very big question in my and many other people that have contacted me about that.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the measure.

In a notice to the House of Representatives, Stitt says that he felt the bill was unnecessary due to current law.

"Current law mandates State Department of Health ("SDH") and the State Department of Education ("SDE") update HIV and AIDS education curriculum material as newly discovered medical facts become available, therefore making House Bill 1018's repeal and replace of statutory requirements unnecessary. With the Trump administration placing a high priority on ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic by 2030, I encourage SDE and SDH to leverage their authority under current state law to work with their federal counterparts, to include the Center for Disease Control, to ensure AIDS education curriculum is medically accurate," the notice read.

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