A piece of legislation that sponsors say will help keep the state from destroying the lives young men is one step closer to being approved by the Legislature after members of the House Judiciary Committee voted to Tuesday to send the bill to the House floor. The issue is consensual sex among teens.
The plan is sponsored by Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and has already received approval from the Senate. Under Hill's bill, 16- and 17-year-olds would be allowed to have consensual sexual relations with a partner who is up to three years older. Hill told lawmakers that his plan would do nothing to protect those who use force or coercion to have sexual relations with another person. According to Hill, 48 percent of all high school students have engaged in sexual relations, a statistic which Hill says is "disappointing," but points to the need to change the law.
Several members of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association were in attendance to oppose the legislation. Grant Lobes, the prosecuting attorney for Twin Falls, called the law "unnecessary and dangerous" because he feels it would do harm to innocent girls if enacted. Lobes told committee members that there is no evidence that the state is actually ruining the boys' lives by prosecuting them because many of the prosecutors don’t have the time or money to go after young men on the charge. Lobes claimed that prosecutors need to continue having the option of pressing charges, if they feel it is warranted.
It was that sentiment that lawmakers seemed to prey on during the hearing. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, both decried the use of prosecutor discretion in charging young men with statutory rape. The two lawmakers warned that the use of discretion in charging could lead to a young man being charged in one county but not in another. Both lawmakers described that as highly unfair.
Another matter of fairness shown through during the debate on the legislation. Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, one of the co-sponsors of the bill in the House, said that he feels it to be unfair that two people agree to the act of sex and afterward one, meaning the boy, can be charged with a very serious crime and face jail time and life on the sex offender registry. Shirley said that he, like Hill, does not condone sexual relations between teens, but sees the need to lift the harsh penalties that boys can sometimes face for engaging in them.
Ultimately, committee members voted to send the legislation on to the full House, despite efforts of Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, and Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, to send the bill to be amended in the House. Nielsen said he felt that three-year difference between the older person and the underage person was just too much and wanted to see it trimmed down to two years, but committee members did not agree. Many of them reminded Nielsen and Smith that as the legislative session comes to a close, a bill would have a hard time completing the full amendment process before time runs out.