State attorney general said bill’s original language would violate federal equal access laws; sponsor says measure necessary to stop “‘recruitment’
SALT LAKE CITY Back on Capitol Hill after 15 days in the hospital, Senator Chris Buttars has amended his bill against gay clubs.
The amended bill was endorsed by the Senate Education Committee on a 4-2 vote Monday, and will now get a debate by the full Senate.
Buttars, a Republican, adopted language in a similar House bill regarding the definition of human sexuality. Some said the original language would ban gay-straight alliance clubs from Utah’s public high schools, but the Utah attorney general said it would run afoul of federal equal access laws.
There is question now what Buttars’ Senate Bill 97 would do, if anything. Some say the amended definition still could allow for the clubs to be banned, or at least force name changes, as state law bans any discussion of human sexuality in schools.
Also attending the hearing Monday was Representative Aaron Tilton, a Republican, whose version of the school clubs legislation was endorsed by the House Education committee last week. Buttars’ amendment adopted the same broad definitions used by Tilton.
Tilton has said his intention is not to ban any club.
Buttars said his bill would clarify for state school districts what the rules are for granting charters for non-curricular clubs. He said districts need the clarification so they can make decisions without fear of lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Otherwise if you wanted to have a Texas Hold ‘Em club, poker, you could do that and they could say we’re not gambling, we’re just teaching them how the game works,” Buttars said. “You could have the same thing with a Nazi club, or any other extreme club.”
Senator Patrice Arent, a Democrat, said the school boards and state school officials believe the bill does not grant them any authority they do not already have.
Buttars contends that the alliances, which exist at 14 schools across the state, are vehicles used by gays and lesbians to “recruit” others.
“I’ve said all the way along to screen out, in a school of 2,000, kids that are confused or that might have a question and they can come to this and be indoctrinated,” Buttars said.
No public testimony was taken at the hearing, although Buttars was allowed to have a constituent speak on behalf of the bill.
Scott M. Soulier said his high-school-age niece attended a gay-straight alliance meeting at her Salt Lake Valley school and was then “targeted, recruited and indoctrinated to the extent that she questions her beliefs that she has been taught in her home.”
Arent said, “The experience I’ve heard today is not the experience we’ve heard from other students. I don’t think this is a bill that will accomplish anything in terms of helping our young people.”
Students and advisers involved with the clubs have said they do not discuss sexuality and that the clubs are support groups.
If the Senate and House bills both continue to pass, the sponsors would have to find a way to coordinate their legislation in statute, or decide which version of the bill should get a final endorsement by both legislative houses.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 24, 2006.