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Rep. Barbara Ehardt

Rep. Barbara Ehardt

BOISE — A conservative East Idaho lawmaker is pushing a new bill designed to allow parents to “opt in” their children for sex education courses in public schools.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, pushed the bill, saying “parents’ rights are being overstepped.” Ehardt didn’t explain or give any examples, but said she would return with more information when the bill receives a full committee hearing.

Idaho schools are allowed to set their own curriculum locally, and parents are not required to opt their children in to sex education courses.

In a recent interview with Duke Pesta, a policy adviser with The Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based conservative think tank, Ehardt claimed health and welfare “agents” were entering Idaho classrooms, distributing obscene pornographic materials and “sexualizing our kids.”

“We are sexualizing our kids and we are spending an inordinate amount of time on this sort of activity when we could be teaching reading, writing and arithmetic,” Ehardt told Pesta.

Some Statehouse observers will remember Pesta from his fiery Jan. 30 2017 speeches about Common Core. During a hearing that day, Pesta spent 30 minutes yelling and screaming at House Education members, before then-Chairwoman Julie VanOrden cut him off.

During a committee meeting earlier this year, Ehardt complained that the optional and anonymous Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey asks high school students too many questions about their sexual experience. The survey is designed to track sexual behavior that could lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and seeks to analyze risky behaviors and how behavior changes over time.

Ehardt’s bill appears to be the antithesis of a sex education bill VanOrden pushed unsuccessfully a year ago, an attempt to modernize the state’s 1970s-era sex education laws by ensuring the content was “medically accurate.” During the 2018 Republican primary, VanOrden’s bill was a major factor in her defeat to new Rep. Julianne Young, who argued VanOrden was out of step with her constituents.

Committee members voted unanimously to introduce Ehardt’s bill, clearing the way for it to return for a full hearing. However, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, questioned why Ehardt didn’t work with traditional education groups, such as the Idaho School Boards Association, while developing her bill.

Ehardt told committee members this is the first real bill she has ever pushed, although she gained a little practice recently sponsoring a nonbinding resolution.

Administrative rules

In other action from a busy Friday, House Education continued to scrutinize a series of administrative rules. Normally, the rules review process occupies the first couple weeks of the legislative session. But House Ed members have moved at a deliberative pace, breaking into smaller subcommittees and, in some cases, devoting multiple days to scrutinizing a single pending rule.

The additional scrutiny sends a message about the balance of powers and checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government but may not have much effect beyond that. The Senate Education Committee already worked quickly to approve most of the rules House Education is deliberating over. Under legislative rules, a rule can go forward unless both chambers of the Legislature reject it.

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