Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Legislature wants schools to keep an eye on gay-straight clubs, giving administrators veto power over groups that threaten the "moral well-being" of students.
The bill requires clubs to seek approval and gives schools broad power to reject any for a host of reasons, including failure to declare a name and purpose reflecting the organizers' true intentions.
The House voted 48-23 on Monday to approve a version of the bill passed by the Senate last week. The measure now goes to Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican who hasn't made his position known.
"This is such a misunderstood area. I am so frustrated trying to help the sponsors of the legislation. This is not something that's going to address their homophobia," said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation at the state Office of Education.
She said the bill won't have much of any effect beyond forcing students to fill out a lot of forms.
"I told them half-jokingly, if they want to get sex out of schools, get rid of football," Lear said of lawmakers.
Utah has about a dozen clubs at high schools devoted to promoting understanding and tolerance of gays, she said.
The state Board of Education took the position that legislation trumping state and district policies on student clubs wasn't needed, she said.
But Utah lawmakers and social conservatives sought to crack down on clubs that discuss alternate lifestyles or "involve human sexuality." Utah limits the teaching of sex education to abstinence.
"It's up there at the top," Gayle Ruzicka, a 63-year-old grandmother who runs the Utah chapter of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, said of the bill's importance to her group.
The Eagle Forum promotes a conservative brand of family values and holds significant influence over the Legislature's majority Republicans.
House Bill 236 "could only ban a gay club if they were doing something illegal like talking about sexually explicit things," Ruzicka said. "Clearly the guidelines will help districts know exactly what they can do. Everyone will know what the rules are."
The legislation also requires a parent's permission for a student to join a club, a provision sponsors cited as their biggest selling point, even though many districts already require it.
Utah's first gay club was organized at a Salt Lake City high school in 1995. In response, the local school board banned all clubs. After lawsuits and student protests, the district reversed its decision in 2000.
Then, in 2005, legislators took notice when a gay-straight club at Provo High School in conservative Utah County, home of the Mormon church-owned Brigham Young University.
But to write legislation taking aim at gay clubs, legislators needed to pass a sweeping bill regulating any kind of club, even for chess or table tennis, to avoid conflict with a federal law.
Students would have to write a charter and bylaws, submit a budget and get school approval for something as simple as pingpong.
The chief sponsor, Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, said all those paperwork requirements could be summarized on a single sheet.
-- On the Net: House Bill 236: http://le.utah.gov/ 7/82007/htmdoc/hbillhtm/HB0236S07.htm
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)