This blog post was written and researched by Isabell Liu, 2020 Voter Research & Engagement Intern. If you need to register to vote, you can do so easily via our website.

With the November 3 general election just weeks away, now is the time to read up on ballot measures that will impact generations of Washingtonians to come–measures like Referendum 90

What is Referendum 90?

The measure calls for voters to either approve or reject WA Senate Bill 5395, which passed this past March to require schools to start offering “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students” by the start of the 2021-2022 school year, according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

R-90 would require schools to offer comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual education for all students.

Usually, when a bill is signed by the governor (which is the case with SB 5395), it goes into effect and becomes law

But, as of June 24, Mindie Wirth (the primary sponsor of R-90) and her supporters managed to obtain the required number of signatures to certify their referendum petition to oppose the bill, and potentially prevent it from being implemented. 

Senator Claire Wilson (D), the main sponsor of SB 5395, said “[s]ome people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior…They need access to information and lessons that will enable them to make decisions to ensure their health and safety.”

The specific wording on the ballot will be as follows:

The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395 concerning comprehensive sexual health education.

This bill would require school districts to adopt or develop, consistent with state standards, comprehensive age-appropriate sexual health education, as defined, for all students, and excuse students if their parents request.

Should this measure be: ___Approved ___Rejected

(To clarify, a vote to approve Referendum 90 would allow SB 5395 to be implemented, and a vote to reject Referendum 90 would repeal SB 5395.)

Comprehensive sex-ed can give students the knowledge they need to develop healthy relationships.

Why Poverty Action Recommends an APPROVE Vote

As an organization dedicated to addressing social and economic inequity, we at Poverty Action recognize the importance of education and information in the empowerment of vulnerable populations–especially in the fight against sexual violence. 

As Ben Santos and David Martin, the chairs of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s Special Assault Unit and Domestic Violence Unit, respectively, write in their op-ed for the Seattle Times, teaching students about consent and boundaries will help end and ultimately prevent new cycles of sexual abuse.  

“For true culture change to happen around sexual and domestic violence, proactive education and prevention also is needed. Too often, young people don’t know how to ask for and receive consent, or how to engage in healthy relationships. Access to this information is a critical part of the solution to end cycles of abuse, especially when the cycles are generational,” they write.

“This proposal [SB 5395] would help stop sexual and domestic violence by requiring public schools to include age-appropriate curriculum that develops healthy relationship behavior in students.”

We also recognize the intersectionality of poverty and sexual violence. People who commit sexual violence usually target those seen as vulnerable, for reasons including their economic or immigration status. Experiencing sexual violence can also lead to homelessness, unemployment, and other financial issues that may exacerbate the survivor’s mental and physical health. 

According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, poverty also increases the risk of sexual violence at the workplace or at school. 

In other words, effective anti-poverty policies are also inadvertently anti-sexual violence policies. If you support Poverty Action’s work in addressing economic inequity, homelessness, and other effects of poverty, you should vote to approve Referendum 90.