In the wake of headlines chronicling sexual assault scandals at universities and colleges around the country, states responded by introducing legislation aimed at curbing these assaults. Texas State Senator and Husch Blackwell Partner, Kirk Watson, authored two pieces of legislation that will begin to address the issue at Texas universities and colleges—both public and private.
The two bills, Texas SB 968 and SB 969, are pieces of legislation that remove barriers to reporting sexual assaults at Texas universities and colleges. Throughout the legislative process, both bills received positive input from major institutions in Texas and other stakeholders. Each bill passed with strong, bipartisan coalitions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, achieving support from across the political spectrum. Two other bills, SB 970 and HB 3818, would have joined Texas with other states that have passed “affirmative consent” laws relating to sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. While these bills did not ultimately pass, SB 968 and SB 969 show that the Texas Legislature has prioritized the goal of making university and college campuses safer.
Reporting Options and Protecting Survivors
A recent survey by the Association of American Universities indicated that only five to 28 percent of sexual assault and sexual misconduct instances were reported to campus officials or law enforcement. SB 968 removes one barrier to reporting by requiring that all higher education institutions provide the ability for students and employees to electronically report instances of sexual assault, family violence, or stalking. Moreover, these electronic reporting systems must include the option for individuals to remain anonymous in their reports.
In addition, SB 969 breaks down another barrier to reporting. Many stakeholders contend that fear of punishment for underage drinking, drug use, or similar behavior discourages victims and witnesses from reporting instances of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, or stalking. SB 969 addresses this concern by requiring Texas institutions to provide amnesty for certain conduct code violations when students report sexual assaults. Determinations of amnesty are final and may not be revoked for any reason.
What This Means to You
SB 968 and SB 969 became effective on June 12, 2017; however, SB 968 gives universities and colleges until January 1, 2018, to make electronic reporting available. Implementation will be a process, so institutions should take steps now to determine technology logistics for providing online reporting, including an option to report anonymously. Universities and colleges should also revise their policies and procedures to provide amnesty to survivors as specified in SB 969. The bills themselves do not impose penalties for noncompliance, but the Commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) is required to establish an advisory committee to recommend rules to implement and enforce each bill. The advisory committee will finish its work by September 1, 2018, and at that time the THECB may adopt the committee’s recommendations.