TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - An average about 50 teachers a year reportedly lose their licenses in Florida due to sexual misconduct with a student. A group of high school students is now pushing legislation that would stiffen the penalties against offenders.
Speaking to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, student after student from Tampa's Armwood High School pitched the Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act.
The bill would tighten the screws on authority figures -- in this case teachers -- that prey on students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Teacher Tony Pirotta was recognized by the committee. The students came up with the legislation in his class.
If passed, educators convicted of felonies would have their punishments pushed to the next level. A first-degree felony could become a life sentence.
"We don't want to have those predators amongst us and being classified as teachers either," said Pirotta.
The only objection came from Rep. Charles Van Zant, who questioned why teachers were the only authority figures being targeted in the bill.
"We have a shortage now of good teachers, and so this will bill knock them and cause people to go to some other profession and say, 'I wanted to be a teacher but man, these laws are too strict,'" said Van Zant, R-Putnam County.
Bill sponsor Rep. Jake Raburn said the law would only target the bad apples
"By no means should this make teachers -- should this give them any heartburn, unless they're planning on having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a child," said Raburn, R-Hillsborough County.
In the last three years alone, more than 150 Florida teachers have lost their teaching licenses after being accused of sexual misconduct with a student.
The bill also enforces the tougher penalties on other staff members of schools if they're found guilty. Van Zant argued it should apply to authority figures outside of the school.
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