History Repeats: Sex Ed Bills Held, Killed in Committee

The House Education Committee, after a four-hour marathon session Monday, voted 12-2 — along party lines — to kill legislation designed to give parents the option to have their children receive abstinence-only sex education, a more comprehensive set instruction regarding reproductive health and “healthy relationships,” that still included abstinence as the only truly safe option, or nothing at all.

HB 215 – Reproductive Health Education and Services, sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City), would have also taught students how to avoid sexual assault and violence and how to react and respond if such violence takes place.

“People of the state of Utah want us to move in the direction that this bill takes us,” said King. “We need to move forward in a way that deals with some of these pressing issues. I believe that knowledge is the best way of empowering our kids. Let’s help them make informed decisions.”

A multitude of doctors, sexual abuse survivors, parents, students, and other members of the general public spoke for and against the bill. Those in favor echoed King’s sentiments about the need for more comprehensive sex education, while opponents worried that the bill teaches children how to have sex.

The Utah Medical Association spoke in favor of HB 215, shocking Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper). “I’m very disappointed,” remarked Christensen.

Lawmakers seemed fearful of upsetting the status quo, but acknowledged that something needs to change. Representative Bruce Cutler (Republican – Murray) said one of his constituents suggested it might be best for a commission to go over the issue and figure out the best way to proceed.

Prior to voting down HB 215, the committee also rejected Representative Keven Stratton’s (Republican – Orem) HB 137 – Public Education Curriculum Requirements, legislation that would have allowed parents to opt-out their children of sexual abuse prevention training. To many in the press, it seemed like déjà vu. On February 23, 2016, a similar occurrence took place. The House Education Committee voted down a comprehensive sex education bill by King and adjourned without voting on a bill by Stratton that required parental consent prior to sexual abuse prevention courses.

After the hearing, King lamented the defeat: “The legislature cannot keep ignoring what the people want. Utahns want a program the protects their kids from the things they will inevitably face in high school and in the rest of their lives. Public education is about giving these students building blocks for the future. Why are we leaving out the necessary cornerstone of relationships?” King said that he intends to keep working on the issue.

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