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Newsom vetoes bill that would allow condoms to be freely distributed to public high school students

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday vetoed legislation that would have provided teenagers attending public high school with access to free condoms and prohibited retailers from refusing to sell them to youths.

Newsom said that although he agreed that providing condoms are “important to supporting improved adolescent sexual health,” the bill would have created an unfunded program that was not included in the state’s annual budget.

“With our state facing continuing economic risk and revenue uncertainty, it is important to remain disciplined when considering bills with significant fiscal implications, such as this measure,” Newsom said in his veto statement.

The governor and state lawmakers this year were forced to address a $30-billion shortfall to avoid cutting essential state programs. Still, Newsom said, the state Legislature approved a batch of bills outside this budget process that, if all enacted, would add nearly $19 billion of unaccounted costs.

Senate Bill 541, authored by Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-Panorama City), would have required all public schools to make condoms easily accessible to all students in an effort to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and curb teen pregnancy rates. As part of the law, retailers would have been prohibited from asking for proof of age or identification when minors buy condoms or nonprescription contraception.

“When barriers remain, youth with low incomes are often left without the option to regularly utilize condoms to help protect their health and prevent an unintended pregnancy from occurring,” the nonprofit organization California School-Based Health Alliance, a supporter of the bill, said. There are also risks of youth passing unwanted sexually transmitted diseases, according to the bill’s analysis, which cited that 5 in 10 chlamydia cases in California are young people, disproportionately affecting people of color.

The bill raised some concerns for conservative groups, including the California Policy Council, that argued that “handing out free condoms perpetuates” a hook-up culture in which “sex is meaningless and done for fun with multiple partners.”

Sex education in California schools has long stirred controversy, particularly in 2016 when lawmakers enacted the California Healthy Youth Act, creating comprehensive sexual education and HIV prevention education.

The revamped curriculum was intended by the board to be all-encompassing and to include the use of gender-inclusive language, as well as educational material on sex trafficking, HIV prevention nutrition, alcohol and skin care.

Menjivar said that “by requiring free condoms in all California high schools, we are empowering the youth who decide to become sexually active to protect themselves and their partners from [sexually transmitted infections], while also removing barriers that potentially shame them and lead to unsafe sex.”

Meanwhile, states across the U.S. have their own guidelines and approaches to sex education.

Only half of adolescents will receive a school lesson about contraception before they first have sex, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health. Only 20 states require information on condoms or contraception.

According to a 2018 report on teen pregnancy prevention, 27 states have curriculums that stress abstinence and 18 states require lessons that encourage students to engage in sexual activity only when married.

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