ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A bill moving through the Minnesota Legislature would make it a sex crime to grab someone's clothed buttocks without permission.
The fact it's not already a sex crime is surprising to some, but it's a loophole intentionally crafted by legislators in 1988 when they created the offense of 5th Degree Sexual Conduct.
"I am closing the loop on an exemption that I don’t believe belongs in the law," Rep. Regina Barr, an Inver Grove Heights Republican and chief author of the bill, told KARE.
"My bill specifically it makes criminal to touch somebody on the buttocks or derriere, without permission, in other words, it has to be nonconsensual and intentional touch."
Current law lists several descriptions of sexual contact that would constitute a violation, but carves out a clear exception -- "but does not include the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks."
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said, if the bill becomes law, prosecutors would use their discretion and consider the context. For example, the slapping that happens in athletics wouldn't land people in jail.
"I don’t know that any prosecutor would prosecute a situation like a baseball coach slapping somebody on the butt and saying get out on the field right now, right?" Choi remarked. "You still have to prove sexual intent."
He said the original exception was probably an attempt to protect coaches and athletes from overzealous prosecution.
Rep. Barr said she was already working on the proposal before then-Sen. Al Franken was accused by women of grabbing them, through their clothing, during photo ops. Barr, herself, says she has experienced harassment during her professional career.
"We have a different generation that’s not gonna tolerate some things that may have been tolerated before," she said.
Her bill cleared it's first hurdle Wednesday, winning approval of the House Public Safety Committee.
Choi is currently president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, which supports the legislation.
"If someone was doing this to my daughter without her permission, I'd be very concerned. I would want that person to face consequences."
He said it's difficult to prove an accused person's frame of mind, but circumstances surrounding the groping incident would come into evidence, including statements and texts made before and afterwards would shed light on intent.
This offense is a gross misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail. Choi said first-time violators would not have to register as sex offenders.