Governor vetoes controversial sex education bill

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert late Friday vetoed the controversial sex education bill, turning back the legislative effort to eliminate classroom discussion tied to contraceptives, intercourse and homosexuality.

"Existing law respects the ability of Utah parents to choose if and how their student will receive classroom instruction on these topics," Herbert said in a prepared statement. "I am unwilling to conclude that the State knows better than Utah's parents as to what is best for their children."

Herbert vetoed the bill then attended a Meet the Candidates forum in Heber City Friday night. Following the meeting he confirmed that he considered each side of the issue before deciding to "push the reset button on it."

I am unwilling to conclude that the State knows better than Utah's parents as to what is best for their children.

–Gov. Gary Herbert

He said there is a lot of angst in Utah over the issue and he was not ready to change existing law. "We ought to just start over on this conversation," he said.

The bill, HB363, was one of the more controversial issues of the 2012 legislative session and the uproar amplified after lawmakers adjourned, with thousands calling for its veto through phone calls, emails, an online petition and protests at the Capitol.

Gayle Ruzicka, President of the Utah Eagle Forum, said she was disappointed with the governor's decision. The veto, she said, gives students "a stamp of approval" to engage in sexual activities.

"We had 64 legislators vote in favor of that bill," she said. "And one Republican who spends a couple days looking at it caves in to the pressure."

HB363 passed with overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers, but it would be necessary for some dissenting lawmakers to change their votes in order to overrule the veto. Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for Herbert, said it is the prerogative of the Legislature to challenge the veto if it chooses, but that possibility did not influence the governor's decision.

"The governor makes his decisions irrespective of what they will do," she said.

After careful consideration of the bill, Herbert decided it went too far, she said.

We had 64 legislators vote in favor of that bill. And one Republican who spends a couple days looking at it caves in to the pressure.

–Gayle Ruzicka, Utah Eagle Forum


"He feels he can't sign a bill that restricts a parent's choices," she said.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said that he continues to support the bill and doesn't see how the governor thinks it limits the choice of parents.

"Maybe he didn't understand it," Waddoups said.

Current law requires parents to opt-in their students in districts where instruction on contraceptives is presented. HB363 would have removed that requirement by establishing a uniform abstinence-only curriculum across the state.

"If HB363 were to become law, parents would no longer have the option the overwhelming majority is currently choosing for their children," Herbert said in the statement.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said he was not surprised by the governor's decision and said it's clear Herbert had taken the time to carefully consider the bill. He said he still believes there is a risk of students being exposed to inappropriate material and that the Legislature has a responsibility to address the content of sex education courses. But he also said HB363 was drafted without ample feedback from the education community.

"We do need to reach out to our education experts," he said. "We do need to involve them."

Ruzicka and the Eagle Forum lobbied aggressively in support of the bill and she said that she did not expect lawmakers to attempt to overrule the veto. "Everyone is tired of it," she said, noting the Eagle Forum will now focus on educating parents on what their children are really being presented in the classroom.

In addition to the feedback from the public, many groups had issued statements urging the governor to veto the bill. Liz Zentner, President-elect of the Utah PTA said she was grateful for Herbert's decision. She called it difficult, but courageous, and said she was impressed with Utah parents who went from a silent to a loud majority.

"The majority of parents want their students to have this information," she said.

Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, who sponsored the bill, could not be reached Friday but has said that in addition to reasserting the role of parents in the education of their children, he was motivated by what he perceived as inappropriate material being presented in schools. Specifically, he mentioned material developed by Planned Parenthood and links on the Utah State Office of Education website that directed users to Planned Parenthood content.

Contributing: Richard Piatt and John Daley


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