JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation sent to Gov. Jay Nixon would expand Missouri's ban on sexual contact between students and school workers by barring contact that occurs off school grounds and adding school board members to the people covered by the prohibition.
Missouri law already makes it a felony for teachers, student teachers, school employees and volunteers for school programs to have sexual contact with a student while on school property or school buses. The bill broadens the law to cover similar behavior off school property.
"This may not be a situation that occurs at all, but if it does, this gives you the ability to do something about it," Phil Hutchinson, who has served for 10 years on the school board in Grain Valley east of Kansas City, said this week.
Hutchinson had urged Missouri lawmakers to broaden the state's law criminalizing sexual contact between students and many school workers. Shortly before its mandatory adjournment last week, the state legislature gave final approval to a crime bill that included a measure banning sexual contact on or off school property and adding elected or appointed school board members to the list of school personnel prohibited from such contact.
The possible penalties would remain the same, allowing violators to face up to four years in prison if convicted.
By focusing on activities on school grounds, Hutchinson said the current law does not address inappropriate contact with older high school students during a field trip or other off-campus activities.
"This is something that really shouldn't happen, period," he said.
Hutchinson said part of the impetus for the Missouri legislation was a case in Illinois. A then-deputy sheriff who also was a school board president has been charged with several felonies after prosecutors accused him of engaging in sex acts with a teenage girl. The man has pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for trial this year. He has resigned his posts at the sheriff's department and on the school board.
The Missouri legislation approved last week now is awaiting the signature or veto of the governor. A spokesman for Nixon said the bill would be reviewed.
State lawmakers also approved separate teacher sex abuse legislation that would require districts that fire teachers in abuse cases verified by the state to disclose the information to other districts that might be considering hiring them. It would forbid teachers from communicating over the Internet with current or former students in ways that aren't accessible to district administrators and parents.
The crime measure also would allow judges to opt for electronic monitoring for people awaiting trial and as an alternative to jail for people already convicted. However, the electronic monitoring option would only be available for people who can afford to pay for it themselves.
A similar measure was considered as separate legislation this year. Legislative staff estimated the electronic monitoring option would not cost local government anything and would have an unknown effect on state revenue. Lawmakers had argued that the electronic monitoring option could save money and allow people awaiting trial to continue working.
But some sheriffs are concerned they could end up paying the tab for unexpected costs, such as tracking down people who are on electronic monitoring when an alert comes from the device.
"It's very easy to look at it from a space value and great cost-saver for the state of Missouri, but that doesn't mean it will translate to the county, local or the citizens responsible for maintaining that county jail," said Mick Covington, the executive director for the Missouri Sheriffs' Association.