It's currently not a crime in New Jersey for teachers to have a sexual relationship with students who are of legal age.

students in hallway
Michael Krinke, ThinkStock

But a bill advancing in Trenton aims to change that.

Under the measure from Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, if a school employee or volunteer has sex a  student under the age of 20, the perpetrator would be guilty of second-degree sexual assault — even if the student consents.

Currently, New Jersey law applies to teacher relationships with children under the age of 18.

A crime of the second degree is generally punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, or a fine of up to $150,000, or both, the bill states.

Gusciora, who attempted to pass a similar measure in 2015, said with more students graduating high school at a later age, along with special needs students who need more years in school, this bill can criminalize "disproportionate" relationships between teacher and student, regardless of age.

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"It's really inappropriate for a teacher or another school official to have sex with a student who is still part of the school system," Gusciora told New Jersey 101.5. "A student may feel like they're giving consent (but) it's an improper relationship to begin with. There are times when a student would be in a position where they feel like they can't say no."

The bill was amended since introduction to include not only a school's teaching staff members, but bus drivers, contracted service providers, substitute teachers, other school employees and volunteers as well.

Terri Miller, president of the national group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation, said she's in favor of a bill of this kind, but the bill doesn't go far enough, noting students of special education needs can attend school in New Jersey up to age 21.

"Those are the most vulnerable population of students, so it would be inequitable to not protect all students enrolled up through secondary schools," Miller said.

Miller is also opposed to the bill's language that states the sexual act would only be criminalized if the student and perpetrator are part of the same school. This bill, according to Miller, limits the protections of students who are no longer at the same school as their "abuser."

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