New Bill Impacts Student Consent Laws

In the wake alleged sex scandals involving high school students and teachers both in Montana and around the nation, momentum is building in Montana to crack down on sexual exploitation of students by teachers and other figures of authority. Lawmakers recently considered a bill that states elementary and high school students are “incapable” of giving sexual consent at school and punishes those who prey on students.

Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, says that House Bill 173 was drafted after numerous reports of school employees engaging in sexual intercourse with students.

Speaking to the House Judiciary Committee, Morigeau said, “This kind of conduct is not only unacceptable, it is reprehensible. I get the feeling that most Montanans would agree with that."

According to Morigeau, the law in Montana makes it legal for a teacher to have sex with a student who is 16 or older. “The first time I read this I said ‘This isn’t illegal? This can’t be right,’” Morigeau said.

HB 173 would criminalize the conduct of teachers who use their position of authority to exploit their students. Under the current law, educators who enter into a sexual relationship with a student are subject to licensing and policy violations. HB 173 states that people who subject others to sexual contact without their consent have committed sexual assault.

Talking about the bill, Morigeau said, “We believe Montana should criminalize someone who uses their position to take sexual advantage with a student.” He also said that if offenders change the life of a student by exploiting them, then “we’re going to change your life.”

The bill comes after a Great Falls Public Schools teacher resigned last year because school officials alleged he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student.

HB 173 would cover school employees, volunteers, and independent contractors. Under the bill, first offenders can be punished with a fine of $500 or jail term that does not exceed six months. Second offenders will face a 1-year prison sentence and $1,000 fine, while a third offense will result in a 5-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.

According to HB 173, if the victim is under the age of 16 and the offender is 3 or more years older, the offender should be sentenced to at least four years in prison and a fine of no more than $50,000.

Although parents can take some solace in the fact this type of behavior is rare, this change in the law is necessary to protect students from exploitation in our state’s private and public schools, to ensure that all students can thrive in a healthy learning environment, and to maintain the integrity of our education system.

Montana Sex Abuse Lawyers

Have you or someone you know been sexually abused by an authority figure? If so, you should speak to our sex abuse attorneys about your case and what we can do to fight for your rights as a victim of sexual abuse. At Hoyt & Blewett PLLC, we are committed to serving clients throughout Montana, and we have the skills and extensive resources that you need to obtain a fair case result. Let our legal professionals review your case today.

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