Most registered sex offenders would be barred from living on college campuses under a bill unanimously approved by a House committee Wednesday. 

House bill 355 by state Rep. John Raney, R-College Station, is one of several measures aimed at sexual assault prevention at colleges that have advanced in recent weeks, as a sexual assault scandal at Baylor University has drawn more attention to the issue. 

The version of the bill approved by the House Higher Education Committee would prohibit most registered sex offenders from living on campus but would allow schools to determine if low-level offenders unlikely to reoffend could live on campus.

“Allowing [high-level sex offenders] to live on a college campus provides an unnecessary risk,” Raney said during a previous committee hearing. He added, however, that he’s “not looking to punish a kid who made a stupid mistake like urinating in a public place.”

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During the previous hearing, Raney said his bill was “common-sense legislation” and added there were more than 650 students at universities in Texas who were registered as sex offenders.

Last week, a Senate committee approved two measures by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The two bills would allow university students and employees to anonymously and electronically report cases of sexual assault to their university and grant students who reported sexual assault amnesty if they were also violating other laws themselves, such as underage drinking.

And on Tuesday, the Texas Senate voted out a bill by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which would establish some of the most strict reporting requirements in the nation for university employees and students for instances of sexual assault, sexual harassment or dating violence.

Other House bills related to campus sexual assault are still pending in committee. House Bill 16 by state Rep, J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, would require universities to establish an online reporting system for students and employees to report instances of sexual assault, stalking and family violence, and would allow such reports to be done anonymously. The bill would also prohibit institutions from penalizing a student who broke the school’s code of conduct while reporting an instance.

“In the case where information has been kept from the public eye, this bill goes to address this issue,” Lozano said last month. “When parents send their kids to college, we have the presumption they’re going to be in a safe environment. I think this bill would do that.”

Another bill, HB 1096 by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would require public Texas universities to establish an education and prevention program on primary prevention and risk reduction, among other things.

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Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A sexual assault scandal at Baylor University has sparked a bipartisan effort to address the issue at the state level. 
  • A combination of publicity, heightened scrutiny and a new state law is leading colleges across the state to place more emphasis than ever on preventing and responding to sexual assault.

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