SACRAMENTO — Legislation that would have required school districts to provide AIDS prevention education to junior and senior high school students was vetoed Monday by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Deukmejian said he was vetoing the controversial bill because he wants the state Board of Education, which is made up entirely of his appointees, to approve any video for students that would discuss the sexually transmitted disease.
"They have the ability to balance effective material on AIDS prevention with the sensitive issues that arise in the teaching of sex education," the Republican governor said in his veto message.
Deukmejian also said parents should be required to give their approval in writing before their children are allowed to see an acquired immune deficiency syndrome-prevention film. This would be a departure from the current state policy for sex education, under which students automatically receive the instruction unless their parents object.
The bill, carried by Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara), was considered one of the most significant measures approved by the Legislature this year to address the growing AIDS epidemic in California.
Hart immediately criticized the governor for failing to take strong action to prevent the spread of AIDS virus, which, he said, already has infected an estimated 300,000 Californians.
"We are putting our children at serious risk, and we are failing in our responsibility as adults to our young people," Hart said. "If we can't get agreement on an issue as basic as showing a kid a flick, then we are in deep trouble as a society in being able to respond to this very, very serious challenge."
Under Hart's measure, students in grades seven through 12 would have been shown a frank videotape about AIDS that stresses abstinence as the primary way to avoid the fatal disease.
Any film to be shown would have had to win the approval of both the elected state superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig, and the state health director, Kenneth Kizer, who is appointed by the governor.
The measure would also have required that schools give parents written notification that the AIDS video would be shown and allow them to withdraw their children from the class.
But many Republicans were apprehensive about the bill because it would have raised the sensitive subject of homosexuality--the major way the virus has been spread in the United States. Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, for example, said the video would be a "how-to lesson in homosexual sex" and urged the governor to veto the bill.
In his veto message, the governor acknowledged the need to provide instruction about AIDS, which has been proclaimed by U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop as one of the highest priorities in combatting the disease.
"While I understand and support the need for education as a means of curbing the spread of the AIDS disease, I do not believe that (the Hart bill) is necessary to accomplish this education," Deukmejian said.
He noted that some school districts already have their own AIDS education programs, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and San Bernardino.
"Local school boards should retain the authority to make critical decisions on which programs best fit their needs," the governor said. "(Districts) may find that the state-approved films contain material morally offensive to the local community. . . ."
However, Deukmejian said he could support a statewide program if it were approved by the state Board of Education rather than Honig, who has emerged in the last year as a chief critic of the governor.
Hart conceded that he might have prevented a veto by amending his bill, as the governor's office had suggested during legislative hearings, to let the Board of Education select the video. But Hart said he refused because the board has had difficulty approving educational programs that discuss sex and, in particular, homosexuality.
"I didn't have confidence in the Board of Education to make this judgment," he said. "Some members feel homosexuality should not be discussed in a public setting. What he (Deukmejian) wants is 11 people appointed by him to make this decision."
The senator noted that under the measure, Kizer, the governor's top health official, would have had veto power over any video to be shown.
Hart also argued that requiring all parents to give written consent for their children to see the video, as Deukmejian proposes, would reduce the effectiveness of the education program.
"It would really consign a number of students not to see the film due to the irresponsiblity, neglect or laziness of their parents," he said.
Noting that Koop called last year for widespread AIDS education, Hart said: "Here we are in California a year later and we have absolutely nothing to show for it. The governor is choosing ignorance over action."