ATLANTA - A bill that would close a loophole and outlaw sex between teachers and willing teenage students passed in a House committee this morning and is on its way for a vote before the full House next week.
The action by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee was just in time because an internal deadline spells the death of bills that haven't received committee approval by Tuesday.
The legislation, House Bill 897 by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, was prompted by a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court in the appeal of an Augusta case. The court reversed the conviction of Melissa Chase, a teacher at Harlem High School, who had sex once with a girl who was 16 at the time. The girl's parents called police when they found out, and Chase was convicted last April.
In a 5-2 decision, the high court decided that the law prohibiting sex between students and teachers did not specifically rule out the student's consent as a legal defense. Other parts of the same law dealing with prisoners and guards or psychiatrists and patients, for example, did specify that consent between the partners could never be used as a legal defense.
Augusta prosecutors tried to convince the high court that common sense would suggest that legislators originally intended to prohibit sex between teachers and students under any circumstances. But Chase's attorney countered that some students are not only old enough to legally give their consent to sex, as was the 16-year-old, but that college students, for example, are often adults.
Today, the committee approved Collins' bill with a wording change to limit it to students in high school or younger, but there was no discussion or opposition.
Since the Supreme Court's decision, other teachers have used the student's willingness as their defense.