HELENA- Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen joined lawmakers at the state capitol Friday, in support of a bill saying students cannot give consent for sexual relationships with school employees.
Senate Bill 132 is sponsored by Republican Sen. Keith Regier of Kalispell. It would prohibit any elementary or secondary school student from giving consent to a school employee, contractor or volunteer.
“This is common sense – that students are a protected class and that school officials are in a position of trust over them,” said Arntzen.
“Parents put a lot of trust in schools with educating their children,” Regier said. “With that trust comes a high degree of responsibility. Senate Bill 132 will help define that responsibility and help protect Montana’s students.”
SB 132 is not the only bill the Montana Legislature is considering on this subject. Democratic Rep. Shane Morigeau of Missoula has introduced House Bill 173, which he worked on with Sen. Kenneth Bogner of Miles City.
There are some differences between the bills. SB 132 applies only when the school employee, contractor or volunteer knows or reasonably should know the victim is a student. It also includes exceptions for couples who are married or were in a romantic relationship before the employee started working at the school.
SB 132 would also make it a misdemeanor for a public or private school employee to help someone who has engaged in sexual misconduct find another job. Routine transfer of a personnel or administrative file is exempted.
“This is making sure that evil is out of our public school system and our school systems across our state,” said Arntzen. “Predators are not educators.”
Morigeau said he intended his bill to be broad so it wouldn’t create any loopholes, but he said he would be willing to consider amendments to address concerns that some couples might be affected.
“I just appreciate that Democrats and Republicans are working together,” he said.
Arntzen thanked Morigeau for bringing his bill, saying this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“This is a discussion that is for all of our policymakers, whether it is in the Senate or in the House,” she said. “There is no aisle divide within the discussion.”
SB 132 will have a hearing in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee on Monday. HB 173 was heard last week in the House Judiciary Committee, but the committee has not yet taken action on it.
Story by Jonathon Ambarian, MTN News