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"House OKs three bills on sex abuse in schools"
Allison Peryea, Seattle Times staff reporter
Sunday, March 06, 2004

Olympia —

Three bills intended to protect children from sexual misconduct committed by teachers and coaches unanimously passed the state House this week and probably soon will be headed to Gov. Gary Locke to be signed into law.

" It's as good as done," said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, who introduced two of the bills. "The Senate has already agreed to concur with amendments on all three bills and vote for final passage. It should happen Monday."

The spate of legislation was a response to a Seattle Times series, "Coaches Who Prey," which ran in December and found that schools often have allowed predatory teachers and coaches to bounce from one school district to another while keeping their histories secret.

The Times found 159 coaches who were disciplined or fired because of sexual misconduct; yet 98 of them continued working with children.

Late Thursday and yesterday, the House approved Senate-passed measures to:

• Require school districts to notify each other about past and current employees' sexual misconduct.

That would make sure school districts could not allow an employee who abuses students to simply transfer to a new district, rather than confronting the problem, advocates say.

Districts also would be prohibited from entering into severance agreements with employees that conceal sexual-misconduct complaints.

" We do not want any individuals working in our school districts who do not have the best interests of the children at heart and would in fact harm them," Kohl-Welles said.

• Set a one-year deadline for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to complete an investigation when a complaint of sexual misconduct with a child is filed against an educator, unless there is a concurrent criminal investigation.

The Times found that the agency took two years, on average, to investigate sexual-abuse complaints.

• Require school employees to report to supervisors suspected abuse or neglect by other employees.

According to a last-minute amendment, the alerted administrator is required to notify the involved parties — including the alleged victim and the student's parents — of the charges before going to law-enforcement authorities under some circumstances.

Sex-offender bill passes

Also Thursday night, after a highly emotional debate, the House approved a less-stringent version of a measure that would increase penalties for child sex offenders.

The original bill proposed by Rep. Lois McMahan, R-Olalla, would have lengthened prison terms and abolished a program that lets first-time child sex offenders get lighter jail terms if they go through treatment.

Instead, the House voted to make it harder for offenders to qualify for the Special Sex Offender Sentencing program.

Republicans argued that the new version of the bill doesn't go far enough and are hoping the Republican-majority Senate will insist on some of the tougher language McMahan proposed.