SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Senate approved a bill Wednesday that seeks to create a child abuse prevention curriculum for Utah’s schools, but the senators also amended it to reinforce that a parent would need to opt their child in for the class should it address certain topics.
The opt-in discussion on the bill, H.B. 286, first came up Tuesday, but multiple senators rose in opposition to that idea as they were concerned Utah students who would benefit from the class would not get the opportunity to participate in it if it was an opt in. A few of the senators even shared their own personal experiences with abuse as they spoke in opposition to the opt-in amendment, arguing Utah’s students need to know they don’t have to allow abuse to happen to them. The amendment was voted down.
However, on Wednesday when the bill came up for final passage, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, proposed an amendment to the legislation to tie it to provisions already in state law that say if Utah students are instructed on certain subjects — such as mental or psychological problems, sexual behavior or orientation, illegal behaviors and religious beliefs — the school must first receive written consent from the students’ parents.
Valentine explained the Senate was incorrect in its assumptions Tuesday that the curriculum could be an opt-out option for parents and made the motion to amend the bill to tie it to what was already in state law, clarifying that if the course touches on the restricted items, parents need to opt their students into the course.
“If you are attempting to do the things in these sections you will have to have written consent to do so,” Valentine said.
He added he did not want to allow the bill, should it pass, to become a back door for someone to use to avoid following the opt-in requirements already laid out in state law, but some of his fellow members saw his maneuver as an attempt to hijack the legislation.
“I think it is a little late, frankly, to make some major changes to this bill,” said Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay. “I think people have weighed in on this; this is the last hoop that it needs to jump through before it becomes law.”
Jones later told reporters that members of the Eagle Forum had been pulling Senators off the floor to lobby them to vote for Valentine’s amendment. Jones said between the members being lobbied by the conservative group and Valentine’s amendment being pushed it felt like an “end around” was being played on the bill.
Valentine said he was simply trying to avoid a situation where a school district does an opt-out program for the course and then is challenged by parents who believe it should be an opt-in under state law.
“Now they know about it,” Valentine said.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, observed that the program would not go into effect until the 2016-17 school year. He said that gives Utah lawmakers 18 months to determine if how the bill stands now is the correct way to proceed before it is implemented.
The chief sponsor of the bill said she plans to allow the amendment to remain in the legislation when it comes up for a final vote in the House.
“We are so grateful to all of our advocates who have fought so hard for this bill,” said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. “This is and always has been about protecting our children, giving them the tools they need to prevent.”