Critics said the current opt-out requirement is necessary to include students in abusive situations who might otherwise be kept from receiving information.
"The opt in doesn't take into account that the abuser might be in their home," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "I think this puts children at risk."
Monday's committee hearing, which lasted for more than four hours due to significant public interest, was a near-replica of a similar proceeding last year.
On Feb. 23, 2016, the House Education Committee voted 11-2 along party lines to defeat a comprehensive sex education bill by King, and it adjourned without voting on a bill by Stratton to require prior consent for abuse-prevention courses.
But both sponsors adjusted their proposals this year in an attempt to reach consensus.
Rather than require an opt-in format, Stratton changed his bill, HB137, to allow schools to select enrollment structure for their abuse prevention courses. And instead of applying a comprehensive sex-education curriculum statewide, King's HB215 would have allowed for both abstinence-based and comprehensive programs, with parents able to select the option — or neither — for their child.
King said the bill was necessary to lessen rates of teen pregnancy and transmission of infections, as well as to educate Utahns about consent and assault. His bill specified that parental notices be printed in at least 14-point font, to ensure that families were aware what their children would be taught at school.
"I believe that if our kids are empowered with education and knowledge about these things," King said, "they're more likely to recognize warning signs."
The two bills drew large numbers of supporters and opponents, requiring overflow accommodations in the House building.
Laureen Simper of the United Women's Forum said the intricacies of sexual relationships are best left to conversations between parents and their children.
"I have to wonder if this is the proper role of government," Simper said.
But Lauren Hunt, a Utah County prosecutor, said the rate of sexual violence in the state points to a lack of knowledge on issues of healthy sexuality.
She referred to a case in which a young girl allegedly had been raped by an acquaintance, but the defendant was acquitted in part because the jury did not believe an assault by an acquaintance could constitute rape.
"These potential jurors are also the parents who are supposed to be teaching our students," Hunt said.
Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said his organization works with sexual assault victims who are unable or unwilling to say the word "vagina," and who don't recognize their experiences as assault.
"That is the legacy of our failed abstinence-plus system," he said.