Women who have been convicted on misdemeanor prostitution charges could be eligible for an Oregon teaching license, under legislation that passed the state Senate Friday, 20-7.
Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, argued passionately for the measure, invoking the gospel of redemption and forgiveness, and the sins of judgment, in a floor speech that riveted her colleagues and quieted the often-buzzing chamber.
"If a person is able to break free and turn their lives around, we as a society should recognize the strength and bravery required to take those steps," Carter thundered. "I have truly prayed about this bill and all its implications, and thought about why I know it is the right thing to do."
Carter had pushed similar legislation in the 2005 session, but withdrew the proposal before it made it to the floor, after strong signals that it would not pass in the then-Republican-controlled house, and that even some of her Democratic colleagues were nervous about voting for the bill.
On Friday, she acknowledged that the bill could still be "politically difficult" to explain, and several Democrats, including Sens. Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham and Richard Devlin of Tigard, did vote against it.
"There are plenty of places people can find redemption besides our schools," said State Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, who was among the "no" votes. "Our number one priority has to be the safety of our children."
But the proposal did draw support from a few Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who is noted for his conservative views.
Under the proposed legislation, a license wouldn't be automatically granted to a woman with a misdemeanor prostitution conviction in her past. Instead, each applicant would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission. And the conviction would have to be at least five years old for a woman to be considered for a teaching license or work in another capacity in a school.
Similar laws already exist in the neighboring states of California, Washington, Idaho and Nevada. Now Carter is arguing that it's time for the same courtesy to be extended to former prostitutes in Oregon, many of whom, she said, are victims of sexual abuse, rape or incest. Others, she said, are forced into prostitution via sex-trafficking, or by a family member, and all deserve a second chance.
Such women, Carter contends, can be role models for students who might be headed down the wrong paths.
Oregon law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a lengthy list of felony crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, sodomy and incest, from receiving a teaching license.
The proposal now moves to the Oregon House for consideration.
Eds: The bill is SB724
Ex-prostitutes could qualify as teachers