Gov. Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5395, which allows comprehensive sexual education in schools. (TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5395, which allows comprehensive sexual education in schools. (TVW)

Foes file signatures for measure to repeal new sex-ed law

Referendum 90 would let voters decide fate of controversial legislation signed by governor in March.

OLYMPIA — Opponents of a state law concerning sex-education instruction in public schools submitted signatures Wednesday for a ballot measure to repeal the controversial legislation.

They turned in roughly 266,000 signatures for Referendum 90, which would let voters decide the fate of the law requiring districts to provide age-appropriate instruction at all grade levels.

The Secretary of State’s Office will review and tally the signatures. If at least 129,811 are valid registered voters, the measure will qualify for the ballot in November. On average, signature verification takes about two to three weeks.

“We are making history right now,” referendum sponsor Mindie Wirth of Bothell told supporters gathered outside the Secretary of State’s office.

In a separate statement, she said, “Thousands of people across Washington became active after this extreme law was rushed through in the final days of the legislative session. It’s only fair that citizens have the right to vote on it.”

The referendum targets Senate Bill 5395, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed in March and was to take effect Wednesday. The law is now on hold pending the outcome of this process.

The law directed school districts to adopt or develop comprehensive age-appropriate sexual health education consistent with state standards.

And it mandates a curriculum be available for instruction to students in grades six through 12 in the 2021-22 school year and then all grades, including kindergarten, beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

It was one of the most contentious pieces of legislation during the 2020 session as Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push it through over strong opposition from Republicans in both chambers.

On Wednesday, Inslee said he will oppose the repeal effort.

Opponents mobilized swiftly, forming Parents for Safe Schools to pursue the referendum. The Republican caucuses in the House and Senate and the state Republican Party are part of the group. So, too, are the the Family Policy Institute of Washington, a conservative faith-based group based in Lynnwood, and Informed Parents of Washington, a coalition of parents opposed to the bill.

As of Wednesday, the Parents for Safe Schools political committee had raised nearly $100,000. The Reagan Fund, a committee controlled by House Republicans, had contributed $25,000. Joshua Freed of Bothell, a GOP candidate for governor, had given $5,000.

If Referendum 90 makes the ballot, it will be the second straight year voters will get the final word on a significant social policy pushed by Democrats.

In 2019, voters repealed a measure passed by the Legislature that sought to reinstate the use of affirmative action in state employment, contracting and admission to public colleges and universities. That vote was on Referendum 88.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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