State Sen. Susan Descambault

AUGUSTA — On April 10, a bill sponsored by State Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, that criminalizes licensed pastoral counselor sexual abuse received unanimous approval from the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The bill now faces votes before the Maine Senate and House. If passed out of Legislature, the bill with go to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk, at which point she will have 10 days to veto the bill, sign it into law, or allow it to become law without her signature.

LD 913, “An Act To Protect the Public from Clergy Sexual Abuse,” would make it illegal for licensed pastoral counselors to engage in sexual activity with those who they are counseling. Licensed pastoral counselors are clergy members who have a specialized degree in behavioral counseling.

“This bill protects the rights of patients who seek counseling from licensed pastoral counselors in the same way we treat patient rights with other licensed behavior counselors,” said Deschambault.

The bill acknowledges that licensed pastoral counselors are in a position of trust and authority over another person, which creates an inherent power imbalance in the relationship. LD 913 would criminalize sexual conduct of any sort between a licensed pastoral counselor and another person if the clergy member uses his or her position of authority and trust to engage in a sexual act.

Non-emergency laws passed in the regular legislative session this year will be effective law 90 days after the Maine Legislature adjourns.

Deschambault represents Maine Senate District 32, which includes Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman.

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