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House OKs bills targeting sexual assault on college campuses

The Texas House on Friday approved two measures aimed at combating sexual assault on college campuses across the state.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, is shown voting on the House floor on May 17, 2017.

Editor's note: This story was updated May 20 to reflect the final votes on the bills

Legislation that takes aim at sexual assault on Texas college campuses received an endorsement Friday from the state House of Representatives.

The House preliminarily approved Senate Bill 968, which would would let students and employees electronically and anonymously report sexual assaults to their universities. They also approved Senate Bill 969, which would grant amnesty to students who report a sexual assault even if they were violating other laws, like underage drinking, themselves. Both passed on a voice vote.

The measures, both authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, need final approval in the House before they return to the Senate, which will consider the amendments added by the House. (Update, May 20: SB 968 passed with a 124-12 vote and SB 969 passed with a 129-7 vote to receive final approval)

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who is carrying the bills in the House, said the bill would empower students to report sexual assault without fear of recrimination.

“This is good policy to protect our students on our higher education campuses,” he said.

Leach previously told the Texas Tribune he filed the legislation in response to a Baylor University sexual assault scandal that became public in 2015. A federal lawsuit filed in January claimed that 31 players on the Baylor football team committed 52 acts of rape from 2011 to 2014, far more than had been previously disclosed by university officials.

A Baylor alum, Leach said the events at his alma mater were “certainly something that motivated and propelled me to delve into these issues.”

Watson, also a Baylor alum, has said his efforts aren’t tied to the scandal that has plagued his alma mater. He said the issue extends beyond problems at a single university.

Watson previously said that Baylor "had no more input on this than any other institution of higher education that we dealt with, but did provide some information about their policies ... it would be a stretch to say there was a collaboration."

Watson said the Baylor scandal “highlighted a very serious need and problem in our state” that the Legislature needed to address in new ways.

The lower chamber also gave final approval Friday to Senate Bill 966, which would amend the state alcoholic beverage code to prohibit rape witnesses and victims from being charged with underage drinking if they’re reporting an incident of sexual assault to a campus police officer, law enforcement or to the Title IX coordinator of an institution.

Read related Tribune coverage: 

  • Most registered sex offenders would be barred from living on college campuses under a bill unanimously approved by a House committee in April.
  • As Baylor University continues grappling with the fallout from a sexual assault scandal, legislators from both parties say what happened at Baylor has sparked a bipartisan effort to address the issue at the state level.
  • Sen. Kirk Watson's proposed bills would require universities to provide an anonymous online sexual assault reporting process and would prohibit administrators from punishing victims who reveal they were drinking underage at the time of an attack.

Disclosure: Baylor University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.


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