Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current, February 14, 2018, Page 3B, Image 7

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    SILVERTONAPPEAL.COM ❚ WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2018 ❚ 3B
Mandatory reporting bill closer to passing
Natalie Pate
Salem Statesman Journal
USA TODAY NETWORK
Teachers may no longer be required to report sexual
activity between teenagers under a bill that a legisla-
tive committee sent to the full Senate Feb. 6.
Under current law, school staff and other manda-
tory reporters have to report any sexual activity —
from kissing to intercourse — involving someone un-
der the age of 18. The report must be filed with law en-
forcement or the Oregon Department of Human Ser-
vices.
The purpose is to identify and protect children from
abuse. But the strict interpretation, brought to light in
a Salem-Keizer Public Schools staff training last year,
was met with scrutiny by many concerned this cuts off
communication between students and trusted adults.
Opponents also feared it would put mandatory re-
porters in a difficult position, making them more likely
to be punished for not reporting something they saw
as consensual.
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Rep. Bill Post, R-
Keizer, sought to quell these concerns with Senate Bill
1540.
The bill clarifies a report does not have to be made
for sexual activity between 14- to 21-year-olds who are
within three years of each other.
However, reports are still required if there is any
suspicion of abuse, harassment, force or coercion, re-
gardless of age.
The bill was expected to move through and pass
easily, especially with bipartisan and bicameral sup-
port with the co-sponsors.
But it met opposition this week when an amend-
ment expanding the lower age bracket down from 14 to
12 was introduced.
Gelser said the proposed amendment to 12 years of
age aligned with current practice across the state.
Keeping it at 14 would require major policy and prac-
tice change for all medical professionals across the
state, she said, based on regulations going back 20
years.
Various health care practitioners gave testimony at
the hearing, including officials from the Oregon Med-
ical Association, supporting Gelser's argument.
"In our effort to create legislation that keeps us at
the status quo of where we have always been," Gelser
said, "that number would be 12.
"If it's 14, every healthcare practitioner, therapist,
counselor, psychiatrist will have to change their prac-
tice and their training," she said. "And it raises ques-
tions about unintended consequences."
Gelser acknowledged the concerns, saying she, her-
self, was worried when it was first brought to her atten-
tion last week. However, she eventually came to the
same conclusion.
"The argument is not that the Legislature ... thinks
12-year-olds should be having sex," Gelser said.
"Do I personally believe that if two 12-year-olds are
engaged in sexual activity there should be a conversa-
tion with an adult? Absolutely," she said. "But do I be-
lieve that conversation should come with a knock on
the door from a police officer if there was no abuse? I
don't."
She reiterated that mandatory reporters can and
should continue to report, regardless of age, if there is
suspicion of abuse.
"You can always report," she said. "Anytime you are
concerned, you should report."
Post, whose wife is a special education teacher in
Salem-Keizer, was opposed to the amendment but
continued to support the bill.
"I wish all young people would refrain from sex at
that age," he said, "but if not, I want them to have
someone to talk to and I don't want that person's job on
the line."
Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, listens to one of her peers speak in the Senate Chamber at the Oregon Capitol
Building in Salem, Oregon, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. CONNOR RADNOVICH / STATESMAN JOURNAL
While Post said "his heart just
doesn't like (the amendment)," he
continued to support the bill be-
cause "his constituents need (it)."
"I want to do what's right for
those kids and the teachers," he said.
A representative from the Oregon
District Attorney's Association ar-
gued the amendment made the bill
Rep. Bill Post
too broad and expressed concern
that this would limit the number of reports they re-
ceive — something that is invaluable in detecting and
preventing abuse.
"I think we can all agree we need to do a better job of
recognizing and protecting kids from abuse," said
Brendan Murphy, a deputy district attorney for Marion
County.
Murphy said mandatory reporting is often incor-
rectly seen as something that will immediately result
in criminal charges.
Instead, he said they should be seen as a "snapshot
of information used to assess if kids are safe, whether
that be a school response (or) DHS response or crimi-
nal investigation."
"When child abuse occurs, child safety experts only
get snapshots or pieces of information to put that puz-
zle together," he said. "Experts need as many puzzle
pieces as possible to see the picture, and get it right."
Murphy argued the ball has historically been
dropped in protecting college gymnasts, kids in foot-
ball camps and altar boys in Catholic churches. And he
said that any sexual activity of children 12 and 13 years
old concerns him.
"We need all the help we can get," he said.
Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, voted
against the age-range amendment.
The overall bill, including both amendments, was
approved unanimously with one absence and sent to
the Senate floor.
Kimberly Schott, a junior at McNary High School in
Keizer, was one of the leading forces behind the initial
bill.
After hearing about the requirement from a teacher,
Schott became concerned this would limit students'
abilities to speak with trusted adults, especially stu-
dents who couldn't talk about the topic with their fam-
ilies.
So Schott took action. She and other students start-
ed an online petition and held a small protest outside
 
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the Capitol in October. They met with Post and Gelser
in the fall, looking for answers.
Now, more than 4,500 people have signed the
petition and the bill is moving forward.
"It’s really cool," Schott said. "It shows how far ... a
high school student can get. It shows all the people
who said I couldn’t make a difference — it shows they
were wrong."
However, after hearing about the age-range amend-
ment, Schott had a lot of reservations.
"That could put students at risk and that’s not what
I’m fighting for," she told the Statesman Journal. "I feel
like that would make it easier for 12-year-olds to be
abused."
Schott said she wanted to voice her concern about
the amendment since "it could turn south" and her
"name is behind it."
As for the district, Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman
for Salem-Keizer, said, “Our role is to comply with the
law as it is written." No district staff spoke on the bill at
the hearing Tuesday.
“If there are legislative changes, we’ll work with the
(district attorney) to ensure that we are in full compli-
ance," she said, "just as we’ve done in the past.”
Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJour-
nal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter
@Nataliempate
or
on
Facebook
at
www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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