Lawmakers vote against bill updating how health education is taught in Utah on last day of session
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, who ran HB274, said her “sole purpose is to protect children.”
Although she received more support this session, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss’ latest attempt to update how health education is taught in Utah schools was killed on the last night of the legislature, without any debate.
“It’s just really important information, and I don’t understand the reluctance,” Moss, D-Holladay, told the Salt Lake Tribune on Monday.
Moss introduced a similar bill last year, which never made it out of the House, even after agreeing to scrap a section on teaching consent – which has sparked much of the debate over the bill – with the aim of finding a compromise.
In his bill this year, HB274Moss didn’t include the word consent, except to say that parents would have to sign up to allow their child to learn what she was offering.
HB274 reportedly required the State Board of Education to develop a curriculum that teaches students about “sexual assault resource strategies” and “prevention of sexually abusive behavior,” including that the student “has the right to refuse any type of physical contact from another individual”, how to set boundaries and their responsibility to respect the boundaries of others.
It would be taught in an age-appropriate, “victim-free” way, says Bill, and teaches early signs of coercion, emotional manipulation and grooming strategies. It may also “include instructions on refusal techniques.”
According to the bill, school districts would also incorporate data on sexual assaults in their county into health education. And all of this would have been taught twice, once in seventh grade and once in high school.
Another difference this year: Republican Senator Kirk Cullimore, Sandy, signed on as a sponsor.
“I think it’s important because of the prevalence of sexual assault in our state, unfortunately, and in our schools,” Cullimore told his Senate colleagues Friday.
After explaining the bill, Cullimore said, “With this, I’m open to any questions.” There were none.
Voting began, with the bill ultimately failing with 10 votes in favor and 18 against. Moss said his intern sends him messages from the gallery. At first, the council was “going green,” but then she “watched in horror” as senators began to change their votes.
“I was just stunned,” Moss said, adding that some of the young people she worked with on the bill were crying.
HB274 had already left the House on a vote of 43 to 25, and he received support from committees in both houses.
“It was really personal and emotional for me,” Moss said.
During the last session, Moss shared that her three daughters encouraged her to carry out her bill to help prevent others from going through the “horrible ordeal” their family went through, when her daughters were victimized in childhood.
Moss shared some “alarming” stats this session, including that 14.3% of Utah students in high schools have experienced sexual violence over the past 12 months, and how one in three women in Utah will experience sexual violence in her lifetime.
Some of the criticisms of HB274 during the committee hearings were that parents should be the ones teaching their children this information. Lawmakers also questioned whether it was already taught in schools.
“It’s the norm, but it’s not…in the law,” said Moss, who is a former teacher. “So, [educators] can teach it, but that doesn’t mean they all teach it. That’s why I decided to make the invoice.
Moss emphasized that his “sole purpose is to protect children.” The representative said that students want and need this information.
Asked if she plans to introduce a similar bill again, Moss replied, “I feel a responsibility to do so.” Because the people who lose with HB274 failing, she said, are “our young people.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America body member and writes about the status of women in Utah for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.