OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa worked with other senators to reintroduce bipartisan legislation for the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, designed to combat sexual assault on campuses by strengthening accountability and protecting students.
The act would reform the way colleges report sexual assault incidents that occur on their campuses, helping to protect both survivors and accused students by making sure schools have a fair process for investigating cases and conducting disciplinary proceedings.
New resources and support services would also be created if the bill passes, along with setting new notification requirements for survivors and accused students involved in the process.
“Sexual assault is a serious matter that has no place on college campuses or anywhere else,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “This bipartisan legislation will make campuses safer, provide critical resources for survivors, and institute important reforms to the ways universities handle sexual assault cases so victims are fairly heard.”
Other senators that worked on reintroducing the bill include Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Marco Rubio of Florida, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Warner of Virginia.
“Sexual assault is pervasive in colleges and universities all over the country, yet Congress has not done nearly enough to address this crisis,” Gillibrand said in a press release. “For far too long institutions have gotten away with sweeping this problem under the rug. Students are demanding that Congress take this problem seriously, and we must listen to them. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce my bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would hold colleges and universities accountable and help give survivors the support they need. I urge my colleagues to take this issue seriously and fight with us to pass this bipartisan bill.”
Specifically, the legislation would do the following, according to a press release from Sen. Grassley:
· Establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors: Colleges and universities would be required to designate Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to assist survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators would coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, provide information about options for reporting, and provide guidance or assistance – at the direction of the survivor – in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or law enforcement. Schools would no longer be allowed to sanction students who report sexual violence but reveal a non-violent student conduct violation in good faith, like underage drinking.
· Require fairness in the campus disciplinary process: All schools would be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and would no longer be allowed to have athletic departments or other subgroups handle complaints. Schools would be required to provide written notification to the accused as well as the survivor of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision. The notice must include details of the complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding, and the rights and due process protections available to both parties.
· Ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel: This legislation would ensure that everyone from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings receives specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
· Create historic new transparency requirements: For the first time, students at every college and university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biennial survey would be standardized and confidential, with the results published online so that parents and high school students could make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education would also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX with respect to sexual violence and requirements of the Clery Act.
· Ensure coordination with law enforcement: This legislation would require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding (MOU) with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder. These MOUs would ensure that the school and law enforcement clearly delineate duties and share information so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
· Establish stiffer penalties for violations: Schools that do not comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget. The bill would also increase penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation, from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation. Financial penalties collected from institutions in violation would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program, administered by the Secretary of Education, for which colleges and universities can apply for the purpose of researching best practices for preventing and responding to sexual and interpersonal violence on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.
“When something as traumatic as sexual assault occurs on campus, students need a place they can go for support and unbiased information about their rights,” Grassley said in a press release. “This bill takes active steps forward to help facilitate communication and support between universities, students and law enforcement, as well as foster a positive sense of community on campus.”
Sen. Grassley helped develop the original Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014.