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Rep. Barbara Ehardt

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Sex-ed opt-in legislation for parents of Idaho schoolchildren has died for the third straight year; the Senate Education Committee killed HB 249, Rep. Barbara Ehardt's bill, on a 5-4 vote this afternoon, writes Post Register reporter Sally Krutzig, who covered the hearing.

Here is her full report:

By Sally Krutzig

BOISE — The Senate Education Committee voted 5-4 in favor of holding Rep. Barbara Ehardt's sex education bill in committee. HB 249 will not advance. The bill would have required students to obtain parental approval before receiving lessons on "human sexuality." Lessons would be opt-in rather than opt-out. This is the third year in which Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, introduced this type of legislation.

After hearing testimony, senators on the committee were concerned that, because the definitions in the bill lacked clarity, some students would not receive lessons on important topics such as STDs. Some thought this was an issue that school boards, rather than state legislators, should regulate.

Others questioned whether the bill was trying to correct a problem that did not exist in Idaho. Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, said he used the Legislature's two-week COVID-19 recess to have a discussion with his daughter about what she was taught about sex in school. She pulled out her notes from her health class. Woodward said his daughter’s lessons had been abstinence centered. He did not see the concerns Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, mentioned.

Ehardt had expressed concern that some schools may be teaching children that they are transgender or that they did not need to get their parents permission to have an abortion. Ehardt and her Senate co-sponsor Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, defended it as a "parental rights bill."

HB 249 would have added new definitions to existing code that would break education about sex into two areas: sexual education and human sexuality.

"What I would suggest for those that feel like this is an issue of gender identity or some of these other issues defined in human sexuality definition is that they bring a bill with a solution that we can debate on how we should address this issue. Until that debate takes place, I think this is a very reasonable approach," Thayn said.

The bill defined sexual education as “the study of the anatomy and the physiology of human reproduction.” Ehardt left in current code language that allows parents to opt their children out of lessons about “sexual education.” Under current code all children will receive lessons on anatomy and reproduction unless parents fill out written forms to remove their child from those lessons.

Education on “human sexuality,” on the other hand, was defined in Ehardt's bill as “any presentation, story time, discussion, or reading assignment” on human sexuality about anything other than anatomy and the physiology of reproduction. According to the bill, this encompasses “the topics of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, eroticism, sexual pleasure, or sexual intimacy.”

Unlike “sexual education,” lessons on “human sexuality” would have been opt-in lessons under Ehardt's proposal. This would have meant no child would receive lessons on human sexuality unless a parent filled out written forms requesting their child attend those lessons.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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