ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a measure criminalizing sexual contact between teenage students and school staff.
The measure would make any sexual act between students and full-time permanent school employees a fourth-degree sexual offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
Under current state law, 16 is Maryland's age of consent, meaning it is not a crime for an adult to have consensual sex with somebody age 16 or older.
A Senate amendment states that the school staffer must be at least eight years older than the student to be charged with a sex crime. Sponsor Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said the eight-year timeframe came from child abuse advocates.
"We're not talking about abuse. Should they be a sex offender if it's a five-year or six-year age difference?" Brochin said.
"It's a relationship, not abuse."
The bill could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday. However, as the deadline for bills to pass out of their chamber of origin has already passed, it would face an additional procedural hurdle to pass out of the House.
The House has passed a stricter measure that forbids sexual contact between not only students and full-time permanent employees, but also contractors working for the school. The House bill also prohibits sex between students and employees of a county department of recreation and their contractors.
The legislation stems partly from a case last year in which Montgomery County teacher and part-time track coach Scott Spear allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl he was coaching.
He was arrested in February over the allegations that he twice had sex with the girl, who he had taught at Julius West Middle School and later coached at Richard Montgomery High School.
Because Spear as a coach fell outside the "full-time permanent" employee definition, prosecutors had to drop the case.
Spear asked for his job back after the charges were dropped, but he later resigned.