State legislation would exempt teens from a felony for having co - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

State legislation would exempt teens from a felony for having consensual sex

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Sex between most Wisconsin high school students would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, under the so-called "Romeo and Juliet bill" heard Thursday by the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

Public testimony brought out some very strong emotions from people who have seen their lives, and the lives of loved ones, turned upside down by a decision to have sex as teenagers.

Cindy Komorowski fought back tears as she told lawmakers about her teenage son, Mitchell.

"In the eyes of the law, he was looked at and treated no differently for being 18 years old and having consensual sex with a 16 year-old individual, as compared to a 20 or 30 year-old," said Komorowski.

Other people told stories of being impacted directly by the state's current law pertaining to sex between teens.

"I was convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a child, a felony," said 31 year-old Matt Parmley, who was 18 when he had sex with his 14 year-old girlfriend4. "I ended up being sentenced to 45 days in jail, five years of probation, and a lifetime on the sex offender registry."

That is the potential penalty for any sexual contact or intercourse between teenagers of that age.

"As I'm sure most of you know a sex offender can't go on school grounds. What this means is my children have never had a father go to parent-teacher conference at school," said Parmley, as he broke down and cried.

Assembly Bill 414, authored by Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), would change the law so 15 to 18 year-olds who engage in sexual activity would only face a Class A misdemeanor, which a judge could later expunge.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is opposed to the change.

"The creation of a misdemeanor like this suggests we're less concerned about, or even moving toward sanctioning, sex with 15 year-olds," said Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Shelly Rusch.

State prosecutors also argued they already have the discretion not to charge in such cases, and almost always do.

But UW Law School Professor Mary Prosser said there are many cases where teens are being put in jail for having sex.

"42 percent of high students engage in sexual intercourse, and I think its fair to assume a higher percentage engage in sexual contact," said Prosser.

More amendments to the bill are possible. A committee vote on AB 414 won't happen in the until November at the earliest.

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