Pyle: Your ignorance is the Legislature's bliss
Never let it be said that the leaders of the Utah Legislature do not learn from their mistakes.
Last year about this time, lawmakers were trying to turn one of their core beliefs that life is better when the people are ignorant into a really horrible law.
HB477, you recall, was a move to tear the guts out of Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act by making it much more difficult, and much more expensive, for reporters and citizens to have a look at most government documents.
But before the bill could actually take effect, an organized rebellion by the state's media organizations, wonderfully augmented by some truly grass roots expressions of disgust, convinced Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and others to reverse themselves. HB477 was repealed.
But we now see how our elected leaders have learned their lesson. This year, when they wanted to pass a law designed to keep some people in the dark about some very crucial information, they were smarter about it.
They picked on a weaker group of people.
So the Legislature has passed HB363, a disastrous measure that will allow Utah public school districts to drop all sex education instruction and force those schools that don't abandon it to stick to the ignorance-is-bliss approach known as abstinence-only education.
Nobody outside the Legislature was seeking this change. Existing law already allows parents to opt their children out of what sex-ed there was, and almost none of them do.
The only possible point of this law, as was the case with HB477, is a belief among those in power that order will be better maintained if certain people do not know the truth about something.
But this time, it looks like they are going to get away with it.
Not because HB363 is in any way less damaging to the well-being of the average Utahn than was HB477. If anything, the sex-ed emasculation bill may do more real damage to more real people than the blinding closed-records measure ever could.
Much of the stuff that would have been covered up by HB477 might still have come out someday, given enough public interest and sufficient journalistic digging. Most of the empowering knowledge that will be denied by HB363 will come far too late, if ever, to people who will, as a result, turn up pregnant too young, get married too soon, contract a disease they would otherwise have avoided, have an abortion they would otherwise never have contemplated and otherwise had their lives devastated in ways that can never be walked back.
But the forces of darkness are going to get away with this one, because those most directly affected Utah's teenagers have no voice.
Unlike the media outfits, they don't buy their ink by the tanker truck. Unlike the public interest groups, they don't maintain a plethora of public-interest blogs or have networks of activist friends who know how to circulate petitions and email their state representatives.
No, the young people who will be the victims of the sex ignorance bill are, for the most part, Facebooking about their favorite band, tweeting about their awful chemistry teacher and just trying to stay awake in school after working the 8-to-close shift at Burger King. Not because they are stupid or shallow, but because that's what teenagers do.
That, and have sex too soon, with too little knowledge about how to prevent the negative side-effects.
That is what ignorance accomplishes. And there was already enough of that before the Utah Legislature shamefully wrote it into state law.
George Pyle is a Tribune editorial writer and father of two sons who are both smarter than he will ever be. Reach him at email@example.com, facebook.com/stateofthedebate or Twitter, @debatestate. You can sign an online petition asking Gov. Gary Herbert to veto HB363.
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