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Moral issues seep into several debates

Session had dearth of bills on touchy subjects, though

Lawmakers dealt with only a couple of obvious moral issues this session, but morality seeped into the debate on several others anyway.

Conservative members of the House and Senate who typically introduce bills on touchy subjects like abortion or homosexuality didn't do so this session.

Some of those kinds of bills were anticipated out of a Senate that picked up three noted conservatives from the House this year. Veteran Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R—Logan, surmised the dearth of such legislation was due to new lawmakers still feeling their way around.

How public school teachers should answer students' off-the-cuff questions about sex emerged as the main hot-button issue.

The original version of SB75, sponsored by Sen. Bill Wright, R—Elberta, required teachers to answer such inquiries privately or refer the student to a counselor.

Some lawmakers, however, feared talking about human sexuality alone with a student could expose the teacher to a lawsuit. The final version allows teachers to respond to the questions in class provided their answers adhere to restrictive state law.

The outcome appeased Gayle Ruzicka, president of the pro-family rights group Utah Eagle Forum. She said she received telephone calls from parents who were "astounded" at what some teachers discussed in class regarding sex.

"I think that overall, they did a great job in making sure that children are protected," Ruzicka said.

Rep. David Hogue, R—Riverton, attempted to criminally penalize movie theaters for admitting children into R-rated movies without an adult. The measure failed, but he intends to tinker with it before next session.

"They're still not enforcing it like they should, a lot of lip service," Hogue said.

Ruzicka, who wields considerable power on Capitol Hill, figures she could have helped push that bill through had she been able to rally her troops.

Sen. Ron Allen, D—Stansbury Park, didn't intend for gay marriage to be an issue in his bill on performing unlawful marriages. It was aimed at stopping people, specifically polygamists, from marrying underage girls.

But the bill ultimately made it a felony to perform any marriage not legal under Utah law, including same-sex unions. Some conservative senators voted for the bill on that basis alone.

"So, sometimes we got good votes for the wrong reasons," Allen said.

The notion that Democratic Sen. Pete Suazo's failed hate-crimes bill somehow condoned homosexuality also made that debate somewhat of a moral issue.

Ruzicka objected that homosexuals could be considered a "group" in the bill but heterosexuals would not. That "certainly moves it into that area" where it would raise moral questions, she said.

The Legislature also approved a bill calling for the state's new porn czar to set up a program to combat Internet pornography.