FAIRBANKS — A bill aimed at child sex abuse prevention that died in the Alaska Legislature last year is back.
The bill would require schools to implement policies and procedures for training staff and raising awareness among students and parents of sexual abuse awareness and warning signs.
Based on Erin’s Law, a measure pushed by child sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn, of Illinois, the bill mirrors laws passed by about a dozen other states.
It was introduced in the state House of Representatives last session by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, with companion legislation in the Senate. The bill passed in the Senate 20-0 but died after being passed to the House, where it languished in the House Finance Committee despite being co-sponsored by more than half the representatives in the lower chamber.
With the start of the 29th Legislature today, the bill is back — this time with new, high-ranking sponsorship. Tarr introduced the measure in the first round of pre-filed bills as HB 23 on Jan. 9, but another representative from across the aisle also introduced identical legislation in the first pre-file period. Incoming House Majority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, introduced the bill at the same time as HB 44.
Grace Abbot, an aid in Millett’s office, believes the bill should have an easier path to success with a member of leadership behind it.
“Bills carry a little more weight when they’re coming from members of leadership, and that gives this bill some oomph that maybe it lacked last year on the House side,” Abbott said.
Abbott said Millett became interested in the bill last year when she heard Merryn speak in front of the Legislature.
“I think she was just really inspired,” Abbot said. “It’s something that at this point I think our schools could implement, but I really fell like they need to be empowered, obviously to educate and provide resources to students but also to engage at the community level.”
According to Abbott, Millett introduced her own bill instead of co-sponsoring the HB 23 with Tarr after several attempts to contact her Democrat peer over the interim failed.
“After a multitude of conversations with not only with her colleagues in the House but also the governor, it just became incredibly clear that this bill needed to be introduced again,” Abbott said, “and not knowing whether or not Rep. Tarr would do so, she decided to introduce it herself.”
Several requests for comment sent to Tarr’s office were not returned.
When the 28th Alaska Legislature ended last spring without the passage of Erin’s Law, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board elected to take the effort up itself.
The school board passed its own measure, which it called Erin’s Policy, requiring the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to implement the training and awareness policies that would be required statewide if HB 23 or HB 44 pass.
“I was excited to see that Fairbanks was working on that themselves, and I think that’s proof that schools are able to work on this at an individual level, but as we know sometimes we need to have some intervention where schools themselves have not sought this out,” Abbott said.
Merryn, who traveled to Alaska last session to testify on behalf of her eponymous bill, expressed irritation when the bill did not pass, telling Juneau radio station KTOO the only opponents of the bill should be sexual abusers who have something to hide.
“I’m going to continue to come back and pound on your doors and get others to support this bill until you pass it,” Merryn told the station in April.
Sure enough — as the 29th Legislature prepares to gavel in — Erin’s Law is back.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.