Key Lawmaker Leading Charge To Criminalize Teacher-Student Sex

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A key lawmaker will champion proposed legislation that would criminalize sex between teachers and older
teens who are not protected by Kentucky's age-of-consent law.

State Rep. Kathy Stein, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, took responsibility for the legislation after its originator resigned to take a job in the Gov. Steve Beshear's fledgling administration.

"Boys and girls, when they have a teacher or an aide in a position of authority, are extremely vulnerable, and they deserve protection from that," she said.

Sexual misconduct allegations led states across the country to take action against the teaching licenses of 2,570 educators from 2001 through 2005, according to a seven-month Associated Press investigation, the results of which were published in October. Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students.

In Kentucky, officials handled nearly 100 instances of teacher sexual misconduct over the five-year-period the AP reviewed, ranging from minor violations like using sexual language to more serious, criminal acts such as inappropriate touching and even sodomy and rape.

Former state Rep. J.R. Gray, a Democrat who left the General Assembly to become Beshear's new labor commissioner, proposed the legislation that would allow prosecutors to charge teachers with statutory rape if they have consensual sex with 16- or 17-year-old students.

Beshear, who was sworn in as governor earlier this month, hasn't taken a position on the proposed legislation.

"It is extremely important to Governor Beshear to protect Kentucky's youth from any type of harm," said his spokeswoman, Vicki Glass. "However, it would be premature to comment on the specifics of legislation before it's drafted or on whether he would sign a bill into law until it is in its final form."

Several states have enacted similar measures over the past six years, including Alaska, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington. Lawmakers in NewYork and South Carolina are considering following suit. The Education Commission of the States said Ohio and Maine have had laws criminalizing such conduct since 1994 and 1995, respectively.

Only eight states have set 18 as the age of consent for both men and women, said Jennifer Boyter, senior policy analyst for The Council of State Governments in Lexington. In the vast majority of states, Boyter said, 16 is the legal age of consent.

The Kentucky legislation would be aimed at adults who abuse their positions of authority to draw teens into sexual relationships. The bill, however, exempts married couples, even when an underage spouse is married to an adult.

No one has yet offered any public opposition to the proposed legislation, including the Kentucky Education Association, which represents 35,000 teachers and other public school employees.

Gray, of Benton, said one of the cases that alerted to him to the need for such legislation is in his hometown, where a high school band teacher was accused of having sex with a student. Prosecutors had been unable to pursue felony charges because the girl involved was over 16, which is Kentucky's age of consent.

The teacher, Michael Colvett, 37, of Benton, was charged in October with unlawful transaction with a minor, a misdemeanor, for allegedly encouraging the girl to disobey her parents.

However, last week a grand jury indicted the teacher on a charge of third-degree rape, alleging that he had had sex with a girl before she turned 16. He was also charged with tampering with physical evidence, unlawful transaction with a minor and two counts of sexual abuse.

His lawyer, Mark Bryant, said Colvett would plead not guilty to all charges.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-12-23-07 1246EST

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