California Assembly committee kills teacher-student trysts legislation

The Sacramento BeeApril 18, 2012 

On the same day that 18-year-old Jordan Powers disclosed that she has reunited with former teacher James Hooker, legislation to ban such romantic relationships in the future was killed by an Assembly committee Tuesday.

Powers' love affair with a 41-year-old instructor at her Modesto campus, Enochs High School, made national headlines and sparked the bill by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen to ban sex acts and lewd communications between students and employees of the same campus.

Democrats killed Assembly Bill 1861 Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, saying that too many constitutional and other questions surround the measure.

"I'm very disappointed that predators and union bosses won today, instead of our children," said Olsen, R-Modesto.

Powers and Hooker had claimed that she was 18 before their relationship became romantic, making it legal as private activity between consenting adults.

"Although they're 18 years old, they're still a kid, they're still easily influenced by these teachers," said Tammie Powers, mother of Jordan Powers, referring to high school seniors.

The controversial Modesto couple separated this month after Hooker was arrested on suspicion of engaging in a sex act 14 years ago with another girl, who was 17 at the time. But Powers was spotted at Hooker's apartment Tuesday and she told a reporter that they were seeing each other again, the Modesto Bee reported.

Though the affair involving Powers and Hooker prompted AB 1861, it would not be affected by it, because the relationship preceded the bill.

Opponents of Olsen's measure contend that banning sex acts and "inappropriate communication" – lewd, lascivious or sexual messages – could violate constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly.

"We have to protect free speech even if we don't like it," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who chaired the committee.

AB 1861 would have made it a felony for a teacher or any school employee to have sex or engage in lewd communication with a student – regardless of age – in elementary, middle or high schools.

Because state law already bans adults from having sex with or attempting to seduce minors, the key impact of AB 1861 would have been to crack down on affairs between teachers and 18-year-olds.

Besides incarceration, Olsen's measure called for offenders to be stripped of their right to a public pension.

Valerie Small Navarro of the American Civil Liberties Union said the ban on sexual messages was overly broad and could chill discussion of "The Great Gatsby," "The Color Purple" or other novels.

Olsen countered that she would be willing to amend AB 1861 to address curriculum concerns.

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said she opposed singling out one group of public employees, school workers, for potential loss of pension rights.

"My concern here is that this could begin a ripple effect," she said.

To read more, visit www.sacbee.com.

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