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(Radio Iowa) – April 28, 2014 By 

The Iowa House and Senate have passed a bill that expands the definition of the criminal offense of sexual exploitation of a student to include school employees who are coaches.

The bill was crafted in response to an April 11 Iowa Supreme Court ruling which concluded school district employees with a “coaching authorization”– but who are not licensed teachers or administrators — cannot be convicted of the crime if they have a sexual relationship with a student. Representative Megan Hess of Spencer said it’s a problem that needs to be addressed quickly.

“I feel strongly that we should not have adults dating students,” Hess said.

The bill passed without a dissenting vote in both the House and Senate late last week. However, some lawmakers, like Representative Mary Wolfe of Clinton, warned Iowa schools have hired at least two dozen teenagers who have that authorization to work as part-time coaches.

“While I agree that people were told, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be having sex with your players,’ I am 100 percent sure that no one was told if we issue you a coaching authorization then you cannot have any kind of sexual contact with a high school student, even if you yourself are still in high school and if you do, you will be guilty of a felony sex offense and your life will be ruined forever,” Wolfe said.

Representative Patti Ruff of McGregor said there’s a school in her area that’s hired a 19-year-old college freshman as an assistant football coach  — and for the past three years he’s been dating a girl who’ll be a senior in that school next year.

“So, in my particular case, my young gentleman will have to either choose coaching or his girlfriend,” Ruff said, asking Hess: “Are you going to call her up and tell her she now doesn’t have a date for homecoming?”

Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids urged lawmakers to approve the bill, despite those kind of concerns.

“If you’re a 19-year-old and you’re dating another student somewhere, don’t become a coach,” Hogg said. “…We don’t want any unintended consequences, but we also don’t want coaches in this state taking advantage of our students.”

Other legislators said the law needs to go even further, making it a crime for any school employee – cooks, custodians and bus drives — as well as school volunteers to have a sexual relationship with a student. The Iowa Supreme Court recently tossed out the sexual exploitation conviction against an assistant basketball coach who was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old student. The court ruled the 36-year-old coach, whose main job was at a manufacturing plant, did not fall under the law forbidding sexual exploitation of students because he did not have a teaching license