Lawmakers discuss bills on preventing teacher sex crimes after recent local arrests

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Two teachers were arrested in just two weeks for child sex crime charges.

Last week, Ben Davis High School teacher Robert Chin was arrested for having sex with a student multiple times. On Thursday, Beau Engle, a Tipton High School teacher, was arrested on 10 counts of child seduction charges.

These crimes are bringing up continued questions on how teachers are getting into classrooms and what lawmakers are doing to prevent it from happening.

After a summer study committee, multiple bills filed through the statehouse, each with a different and new policy on handling teacher hiring and firing practices. Those bills were then combined into one large bill, House Bill 1079.

The bill includes a mandatory background check requirement for all school employees after a certain time period. There's also a checks and balances system for both the Department of Education and courts to keep track of cases where teachers are convicted of certain sex crimes.

Human trafficking was added to a list of offenses in which a teachers license can be revoked after conviction. Also included would be the possibility to automatically revoke a teachers license upon conviction of specific crimes, rather than current policy in which teachers can voluntarily sign over their license.

All of these policies are packed into House Bill 1079. Senator Jim Merritt (R) said it's not the most ideal situation for issues he and others have been working on for more than a year.

"That is the danger of having a lop-sided bill with so many topics in it," he said. "There will be a lot of pressure from the members of the senate for 1079 to pass."

While most members of the house are on board with the new bill, there's still some concerns with technical details, including the time restraints when it comes to completing background checks.

Terri Austin (D-Anderson) said main concern is that school corporations begin their school years at different times. She wants to ensure the process of background checking doesn't mean there's an increase of substitute teachers in classrooms in the meantime.

"I’m going to recommend some changes as a conferee, certainly nothing that would impact the spirit or integrity of the process we want folks to use," Austin said.

A conference committee meeting will be held Monday morning. There's a possibility that the bill could have a vote as early as next week.

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