New bill targets sexual harassment at schools

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to impose criminal penalties on staff members or volunteers at schools if they engage in sexual misconduct with students.

Under the bill, anyone who works at a school would face a Class I felony, or up to 3-and-a-half years in prison, if they commit sexual misconduct that interfered with a student's "academic performance or created an intimidating, hostile or offensive school environment."

The proposal was introduced by Kenosha Democrats Rep. Tip McGuire and Rep. Tod Ohnstad along with Republicans Rep. John Spiros and Sen. Jesse James.

Currently, Wisconsin does not have a law explicitly targeting sexual harassment in schools, but there are federal laws, such as Title IX, that have protections in place at public schools, according to a memo by the Legislative Reference Bureau. The bill refines the law to include sexual misconduct conduct protocols at private schools. 

During a press conference, McGuire and Ohnstad said the proposal closes a loophole in the law.

"If there is ever a bipartisan issue, this is it," Ohnstad said. "It's time Wisconsin establishes strong legal protections against sexual misconduct in Wisconsin schools for all students."

McGuire said it would give all schools more options to hold individuals accountable, nothing during the press event that no existing state law bans sexual harassment on school grounds.  

Law enforcement would also be required to notify the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to automatically revoke teaching licenses and add a lifetime ban on reinstatement if an employee is convicted of a crime involving children. Currently, a license can be reinstated after six years for certain offenses.

"We can no longer allow crimes committed against children the opportunity to be reinstated or volunteer no matter the amount of time that has passed since the committed crime," Ohnstad said.

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