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BOISE — A bill to require parents to opt their children into sex education is headed to the House.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, would change the current system where parents who don’t want their children to take sex education need to opt out. The House Education Committee voted along party lines Friday, with all the Republicans in favor and the Democrats opposed, to send the bill to the House floor.

“This bill is not about content, it’s about consent,” Ehardt said. “The opt-out leaves the responsibility with the student, while the opt-in puts the responsibility in the hands of the adult ... as it should be.”

On Tuesday, the first day of the hearing, 18 people testified against the bill and three spoke in favor. The only public testimony Friday was from Idaho Education Association President Kari Overall, who opposed the bill. Overall worried it could lead to notification requirements to teach anything related to sex, including topics such as biology, literature or animal husbandry.

Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, a former school administrator, made the motion to send the bill to the full House. Marshall said many Idahoans still hold traditional views on chastity and sexuality and believe sex should only take place within a marriage between a man and a woman.

“I think it’s our obligation as a Legislature to allow those parents who believe in that concept or any other parent who has any problem with any of the content in sex education being taught in schools to have a little more of the burden shifted to the school and have this opportunity to opt in,” he said.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, who made an unsuccessful motion to hold the bill in committee, said it would be a burden on schools.

“What this bill does is make the exception the norm,” he said. “This is not a good process for something that we agree is an important activity that the schools need to be engaged in with students.”

Eva Nye, who is temporarily filling in for Rep. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello, said the opt-in requirement could work if every child lived in a household with involved parents, but that isn’t the reality.

“I think that opting in might be great if we had a perfect world, but we don’t,” she said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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