As the legislature settles into the business of lawmaking, committees represent a crucial step in the process. It’s where legislators can study and discuss a bill in depth before returning it to the floor.
The Senate Education Committee gathered in the Senate Finance Committee meeting room to discuss two bills Tuesday morning.
Senate Bill 187 creates a new criminal offense of sexual contact, intrusion, or abuse of students by school employees regardless of the student’s age.
Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, is the vice chair of Senate Education, and the lead sponsor of the bill. He said he was inspired by an incident in his home county where school employees were involved with 18-year-old students, but no crime was committed due to the students’ age. He said people in positions of trust must face consequences for abusing that trust.
The bill was sent on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Bill 124 authorizes the state Board of Education to create a child sexual abuse and sexual violence prevention program and in-service training in child sexual abuse prevention.
Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, is the Senate Education Committee Chair. She says although such incidents aren’t common in schools, it is important for students to be aware that something wrong is happening.
“Making sure those kids understand what’s happening to them and understand resources they can have, and people that they have, that they can go to if something that maybe they don’t realize is wrong, because a lot of times these predators will train these kids to think this is normal,” she said.
A revised version of SB 124 was reported to the Senate at large, and will be taken up on first reading Wednesday, Jan. 18.
Grady is a fourth grade teacher, and as such is the first full-time public school educator to serve as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee since 1970.
“I’m in the trenches, so to speak,” she said. “My experiences as a classroom teacher are really, really important. And it’s really hard to work on something in public education if you’ve never really been on the other side of it. It gives me a unique perspective that I’m really excited about putting to work to make sure that we can make some positive changes.”
Grady says she has a lot of priorities for the Education Committee this session, but tries to take time to meet with other teachers and administrators. She says she meets every week with Superintendent David Roach to ensure the legislature and Department of Education are working in tandem.
“We have to work together to make sure we’re on the same page. And I think that’s really, really important. But the number one focus being student success, every single thing that I focus on in my committee is focused around the students. And does this help our students in any way? And that should be the main focus of everybody.”
Grady says she and the superintendent have already worked together on their shared priority of early childhood literacy and numeracy.
Another concern for the chairwoman is teacher pay. She says she’s seen firsthand the competition from border states with higher pay for existing teachers, but attracting new teachers is also a concern.