Utah Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the controversial sex education ban bill Friday night saying that as a parent and grandparent he considers proper sex education in public schools an important component to the moral education youngsters receive at home.
The veto of HB363 comes one day after a record turnout at Republican Party caucuses across the state, where delegates were chosen who will vote on Herbert and his GOP challengers in an April 21 party convention.
Herbert seeks a new four-year term this election year.
A wide coalition of parents, health professionals and teachers – as well as regular citizens – sprung up after the 2012 GOP-dominated Legislature passed HB363 several weeks ago.
The 45-day general session ended March 8, and Herbert has 20 days from then to either veto the 300-plus bills and resolutions that passed, sign them into law or allow them to become law without his signature.
Considering that Herbert will face conservative state GOP delegates next month, many believed the governor would not veto the bill.
HB363 says that the only sex education taught in public schools will be abstinence from sex. Currently, parents can have their children opt in to sex education classes, which in urban areas of Utah deal with contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
Along the populace Wasatch Front areas of Utah, including Salt Lake City, upwards of 90 percent of parents choose to have their teenage children take the optional sex education courses.
Reaction to his action was swift.
Gayle Ruzicka is the president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a traditional family values group that is one of the main conservative citizen lobbyist groups before the Utah Legislature.
“I’m shocked and very disappointed,” said Ruzicka, who said Herbert called her personally Friday night to tell her he was vetoing HB363.
“I didn’t think that our governor, who says he’s a conservative, would do something like this,” said Ruzicka.
“For a man (Herbert) to do this to a bill that has been studied for more than a year, for him to decide this (veto) with very little chance of study – it’s just wrong,” she said.
Ruzicka, who worked with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, said HB363 achieved two main goals: It would have gotten Planned Parenthood out of any sex education in Utah schools and confirmed that abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Without HB363 “we are just giving the stamp of approval to teach contraception, to teach safer sex, and that is just not good,” she said.
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, applauded Herbert “for listening to the public, especially to parents” who want the option of having their teenage children attend sex education classes in school.
“Currently, the system puts parents in charge” of how their children will learn about sex, said Litvack.
“The Legislature, through HB363, in essence said they should have a stronger voice than parents,” said Litvack.
“The current system is not broken. The emphasis is on abstinence, as it should be. But the final decision is up to parents.”
Litvack said he doubts HB363 supporters in the Legislature can muster the required two-thirds votes in the House and Senate to override Herbert’s veto.
“I got the feeling that there were a number of” House Republicans “who voted for the bill initially but then had buyer’s remorse.”
In his veto statement Herbert said: “This topic is best taught in the home, and our public schools should not and cannot replace instruction by parents.”
But Herbert added that “HB 363 simply goes too far by constricting parental options.”
Current law stresses, ““The importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage” as well as the “personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.” Current law prohibits any instruction that advocates sexual activity outside of marriage, in addition to any message that advocates or encourages the use of contraceptives.”
Herbert said those restrictions adequately guarantee that public school sex education classes don’t go too far in encouraging sexual activity outside of marriage.
“If HB 363 were to become law, parents would no longer have the option the overwhelming majority is currently choosing for their children. I am unwilling to conclude that the state knows better than Utah's parents as to what is best for their children.”
He concluded: “In order for parents to take on more responsibility, they need more information, more involvement, and more choice—not less. I cannot sign a bill that deprives parents of their choice.”
HB363 brought Utah into national and international attention.
It came at a time when a number of Americans are taking a hard look at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his ties to Utah and his Mormon Church.
Ruzicka said she can’t say now if his veto will harm Herbert in the late-April state GOP convention.
“We never expected this from him,” she said. “Throughout a whole year of discussions on this bill there was never
any talk that he may veto it; that he had any problem with it. And now this.”