In Utah, UEA, PTA, and Dems asking for sex-ed bill veto
HB363 • UEA, PTA and Utah Dems add voices to thousands who signed online petition.
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The Utah Education Association, Utah PTA and the Utah State Democratic Party are all calling for the governor to veto a bill that would allow schools to drop sex education classes and prohibit instruction in the use of contraception.

That's in addition to more than 25,000 people who, as of Friday afternoon, had signed an online petition requesting a veto on HB363.

"Frankly, we see … this as a need to protect children who may not have the opportunity to get the needed information on critical issues that are life saving in some cases," said Kory Holdaway, of the Utah Education Association (UEA).

Holdaway said the UEA sent a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday requesting he veto HB363. The Utah PTA was drafting its own letter Friday urging a veto, said Liz Zentner, Utah PTA president-elect. And the Utah State Democratic Party sent out a news release Friday "demanding" the governor veto the bill.

Jim Dabakis, Utah State Democratic Party chairman, said nothing was wrong with Utah's current sex education law, which requires parents to give permission for their children to attend sex education classes if they want them to take part. He said he hopes the governor has the "moral courage" to veto the bill, though he said, "I'm not sure he has the courage to do this because he's got to go face a convention full of these extremist delegates."

Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Herbert had not yet decided whether to sign the bill as of Friday afternoon. She said Thursday evening that the governor would "do due diligence to review it, hear both sides, sort the facts from the rumors, and make the best decision based on policy, not politics."

Herbert said Thursday night, "the intent here really is that parents and guardians should have the foremost authority of giving sex education to their children. And I realize families are different, but the primary focus should be on parents and them taking on that responsibility."

Dabakis, however, said he believes the bill will lead to more teen pregnancies and abortions.

The Democrats also linked to the online petition — started Wednesday by a Murray retired firefighter and school bus driver — on their Facebook page.

As of Friday afternoon, the online petition at SignOn.org had more than 25,000 signatures, though some conservative bill proponents have questioned the validity of the petition, pointing out that anyone in the country can sign it under any name.

The website on which the petition is posted is part of MoveOn.org Civic Action, a progressive nonprofit.

The bill's proponents say HB363 gives school districts choice on whether or not to offer the classes. They say sex education is better left up to parents, and abstinence-only is the best policy because abstinence is the only sure way to prevent teen pregnancy and disease.

Matt Piccolo, a policy analyst for the Sutherland Institute, which supports the bill, said far more Utah students have trouble with reading and math than teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"Why not let school districts choose to focus on academics when this seems to be more of a problem for a lot of them?" Piccolo asked. "Why not trust local officials to make that determination of where they want to spend their resources?"

Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, has said no school district asked him to run a bill to allow the option of skipping sex education. But he said he wanted to provide that choice to give districts greater local control.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lschencker