Senator Jack Whitver: Lawmakers act to protect students

As legislation is contemplated in the Capitol, situations often arise around Iowa requiring lawmakers to evaluate current state law. In fact, many laws we pass are the result of one specific incident. Sometimes this is a good thing, however in some cases it becomes reactionary, which can result in creating bad laws.

Under Iowa law, the age of consent for intimate relationships is 16 years old. However, there are extra protections in place when a teacher has an inappropriate relationship with a student. This means that even if a student is over the age of consent, a teacher is prevented from having a sexual relationship with a student. This prevents teachers and coaches from using their position of power to exploit young students. Most people assumed coaches were subject to this same law, protecting students against sexual exploitation from adult coaches.

A recent case ruled upon by the Iowa Supreme Court caused us to re-evaluate our laws concerning sexual exploitation of a child. A 36-year-old high school basketball coach in southern Iowa was charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student over the course of several months.

On April 11, the Iowa Supreme Court threw out a conviction of the coach in question for exploiting a student. Their ruling said although the 36-year-old man was a coach, he was not covered under the sexual exploitation laws in Iowa. They said because he was only a coach, and not a licensed teacher, he did not fall under the current sexual exploitation law.

Because of the ruling, the coach lost his job at the school, but faced no criminal charges for having a relationship with a student 20 years his junior.

After the decision came out earlier this month, the legislature acted quickly, and diligently to address the situation. I believe coaches should be prevented from having a sexual relationship with a student and I supported HF 2474, which makes coaches subject to the same law as teachers. While 99 percent of coaches in Iowa are great community leaders, we unfortunately see too many situations where teachers and coaches exploit young students. This is a common sense solution to address a legal loophole created by the Supreme Court case in southern Iowa.