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SALT LAKE CITY - Lawmakers may have signed off on it, but the debate over a bill mandating abstinence-only education in schools is far from over. An online petition urging the Governor to veto it is gaining momentum, with thousands of Utahns signing so far.
It's too soon to say, but HB363 is proving to be one of this year's most controversial measures, and may produce a backlash like the state saw last year on HB477, which would have changed Utah's open records laws.
The bill defines sex education in Utah schools as abstinence-only, banning instruction about sexual intercourse, contraceptive methods, homosexuality and sexual activity outside of marriage. It moved through the Utah legislature with ease, and enjoys the support of some of Utah's conservative organizations, like the Utah Eagle Forum.
"It's a great bill," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, "(a) law that will teach children the skills that they need in order to remain pure and clean and chaste."
The Utah PTA is urging a veto by Gov. Herbert, saying if sex education doesn't happen in school, it won't be taught at home.
"I think the bigger fear is where will they get information?" said Dawn Davies with Utah PTA. "It's probably not the first place they're going to go, come to mom and say 'Hey mom, I have a question.' And mom isn't going say, 'I need to, today, start this conversation.'"
More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition pushing for a veto.
On the site, a signer named Karen said that it "gives us back the right to choose how our children will be educated."
Another, Amanda, wrote "Education is the best tool."
Still, that's not the Eagle Forum's position. They're delighted with the bill.
"Parents that maybe have a difficult time with that, there are places they can go," Ruzicka said. "They can go online to Planned Parenthood, everything they ever wanted to know or want their children to know is right there online."
GOP leaders in the Senate agree.
"Education needs to teach the children the basics," said Senate President Michael Waddoups. "The core Utah values, reading, writing, math, science and quit wasting so much time on extracurricular activities."
Top Democrats don't see it that way.
"It's the man and woman on the street, the parents, who are really quite upset about this," said Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City. "They'd like to be able to opt in. They didn't see anything wrong with the current law."
Gov. Herbert said he's still thinking about what to do and doesn't want to rush a decision. He told KSL, "I'm going to analyze it. I'm going to look through it and see what the intended consequences are, maybe what the unintended consequences are, separate fact from fiction. Make sure that we have a policy that we can be proud of in Utah for Utah's future and for our children."
Contributing: Randall Jeppesen