SALT LAKE CITY — Sex education took center stage at the Utah Legislature again Wednesday. But this time it revolved around teaching parents rather than students.
In a House bill requiring school districts to hold an annual parents seminar on topics such as drug abuse and mental health, the Senate added "human sexuality" to the list.
"And that became nuclear over at the House," said Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who made the amendment.
Niederhauser said lawmakers passing the abstinence-only sex education bill this week prompted the change to HB420. Public schools must now teach abstinence-only or nothing. The thinking, he said, is "hey, let's teach parents to teach their children."
That thinking touched of a firestorm in the House.
"So this could be a night where they instruct about the use of contraceptives, is that right?" asked Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City.
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said school districts have no business teaching parents about sex.
"I have zero interest as a parent in going to a course where I am taught how to teach my children about human sexuality," he said. "I am 43 years old. I have three children that I got when I wanted and I figured this out. If the Senate needs to be taught about this, let's have someone teach them."
The Legislature found parents "up to the task" of teaching their children about sex in passing the abstinence-or-nothing bill, Wilson said. "Now, we're turning around and saying maybe they're not."
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he proposed HB420 to give parents the chance to obtain information about issues facing young people. It requires school districts to hold a parents seminar at least once a year addressing the listed topics of their choosing.
As passed last week in the House, those subjects were bullying, substance abuse, mental health and Internet safety. Niederahauser's amendment, which the Senate approved Wednesday, changed bullying to youth violence and added human sexuality.
"Is this for those of us who missed the ninth-grade maturation meeting?" said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said what he knew in ninth grade doesn't completely cover what he needs to know today.
"It's voluntary. It's for adults taught by adults. Don’t go if you don't want to," he said, adding some parents might want the information.
Eliason noted that 90 percent of parents opted for their children to take sex education in school under the current program.
"That is now not going to be an option for them," he said, again referring to the abstinence-only law. "Parents before have said we need help with this."
In the end, the House voted 38-37 to not concur with the Senate "human sexuality" amendment and asked it to remove the change. The Senate refused, and a six-person committee comprised of House and Senate members will meet Thursday to discuss the matter.