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Measures targeting sexual assault on college campuses get legislative approval

Both the Texas House and Senate approved two measures to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, answers a question during a panel discussion on Jan. 31, 2017.

Two measures aimed at combating sexual assault on college campuses have received their final approval from the Texas House and Senate.

On Sunday evening, both chambers approved Senate Bill 968, which would would let students and employees electronically and anonymously report sexual assaults to their universities. On Saturday, 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. 

The measures, both authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, passed both the upper and lower chambers with little debate and now head to the governor's office. Watson, D-Austin, said he hoped the passage of his bills would help empower sexual assault survivors.

“One of the ways to change the culture on college campuses is to empower the survivors of sexual assault and to make it easier for victims to be able to report,” Watson said Sunday evening.

SB 968 finally passed the upper chamber in a 30-0 vote and earned positive remarks from various lawmakers. 

“It's hard to hear these very brave young women come forward and talk about the horrible situations they went through. I want to thank them for making a difference in a lot of future Texans' lives,” state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said. “This is landmark legislation and I'm very happy.”

Lawmakers in a conference committee amended the language of SB 968 to ensure all aspects of the legislation would be equally enforced at both public and private universities. 

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

Leach previously told The Texas Tribune that 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.

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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