Teacher-speech bill vetoed

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    By BECKY FLETCHE

    Questioning the legal aspects of teachers’ rights and responsibilities, Gov. Mike Leavitt vetoed a controversial legislation Tuesday night that would restrain teachers’ speech.

    “I support the statement that was made in SB246, but we cannot infringe on free speech,” Leavitt said.

    He promised to bring the bill back to Utah legislators at a special session April 17, said Vicki Varela, the governor’s spokeswoman.

    The teacher-speech measure, sponsored by Sen. Craig Taylor, a Republican from Kaysville, would have prohibited school employees and volunteers from encouraging, endorsing or condoning illegal activities — namely sodomy. It would have applied to their private lives as well as to what they did in the classroom.

    “I am persuaded that in its present form the bill may have the effect of chilling free speech,” Leavitt wrote in a letter to Senate President Lane Beattie and House Speaker Mel Brown.

    Taylor said the bill was intended to keep gay and lesbian students from meeting at school and to discourage teachers from sponsoring those clubs.

    During the last two months, Utah has been consumed with the debate over gay rights, education and the nature of school clubs. In late February, the Salt Lake School District voted to ban all non-secular clubs rather than allow a proposed gay-straight student alliance at East High School.

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