Legislation from Benton Sen. Scott Cyrway that would make it illegal for an educator in Maine to have sexual contact with any student regardless of age is moving forward.

The proposal from Cyrway, a Republican who represents the Waterville area, came in response to allegations against Don Reiter, who was fired from his position as principal at Waterville Senior High School after he was accused of asking an 18-year-old female student to have sex with him.

Under current Maine law, it is illegal for an educator to have sexual contact with a student who is 17 or younger. The general age of sexual consent in Maine is 16.

Last week, the Legislative Council approved Cyrway’s proposal to proceed as an emergency measure that will be taken up by the Legislature in the upcoming short session at the State House.

Cyrway, who previously worked for 25 years with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday he’s heard only positive feedback to his proposal, and he hopes lawmakers could vote on the measure as soon as mid- to late January.

“I think everybody’s on board. We’re just going to fine-tune how it’s going to read,” Cyrway said of the bill. “It’s time it’s taken care of.”

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney has charged Reiter with official oppression in connection with the student allegations and said that her office would have charged Reiter with attempted sexual assault if the student had been younger than 18. Official oppression is a misdemeanor charge, and Maloney said she brought it against Reiter for allegedly abusing his power when he asked the student for sex.

When Maloney announced her office would charge Reiter, she questioned the law’s identification of 17 as the cutoff age.

“I think it is long overdue,” Maloney said after Cyrway proposed the legislation. “The same unequal power dynamic exists in post-secondary education, whether the student is 17 or 18, and that is what the statute is there to protect — to make sure that that unequal power dynamic is not exploited and a student doesn’t feel pressured into doing something that the student is not ready for.

“I’m really pleased that Senator Cyrway has taken those steps.”

Cyrway said he thinks the age 17 cutoff was established because it relates to the general distinction the law has made between juveniles and adults, but he added that all students need protection from a situation in which an educator could try to use power to take advantage.

While school officials always have the option of dismissing an educator despite the existing state law, Cyrway said the law is still an oversight that needs correcting.

“This is going to make it more serious, give more teeth to it,” he said.

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