The Legislature is set to give final approval on bills addressing sexual assault at Texas colleges and universities. Lawmakers are making campus sexual assaults a top priority this session following some major headlines around the state.
In a recent survey conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, 15 percent of female students reported they had been raped. This week, a new federal lawsuit alleges that Baylor University failed to investigate a reported rape involving members of the football team, adding to Baylor’s high-profile sexual assault cases.
Austin Sen. Kirk Watson is hoping to pass a slate of bills before the Legislature gavels out: SB 966, SB 968, SB 969 and SB 970. They’re still on track to pass before the end of session on May 29.
Here's a roundup of the new policies the Legislature is debating.
Senate Bill 966
Watson says his bill would remove a barrier that’s keeping students from reporting attacks. Some students don’t come forward if they’re afraid of being punished for a different violation related to the attack. SB 966 would forgive underage drinking, but only if it’s linked to an incident. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, and it's now waiting for a final vote on the House floor.
Senate Bill 969
A similar bill, SB 969, would protect students from being punished for student conduct violations related to an attack. Broader than SB 966, it defends students against punishment for any conduct violations, not only underage drinking. The Senate approved the bill and it's being heard Friday on the House floor.
Senate Bill 968
SB 968 would remove another possible barrier by making the reporting process available online. It would require colleges and universities to add online anonymous reporting to their websites. The Senate approved the bill and the House will hear it Friday.
Senate Bill 970
SB 970 would require colleges and universities, both public and private, to create public awareness campaigns about sexual assault policies. The bill originally called for schools to use a new standard for defining consent, similar to a California law passed in 2015. However, the Senate removed the new language about consent before they approved the bill and sent it to the House. The House hasn’t given SB 970 a hearing yet.
Senate Bill 576
Another sexual assault bill from the Senate doesn’t come from Watson; he actually voted against this one. Houston Republican Joan Huffman is proposing SB 576, which would enforce penalties for failure to report an assault. Supporters say that school employees and leaders of student organizations must be held accountable for accurately reporting cases. Opponents of the bill argue that fewer assault survivors will seek help from school officials if the officials are required to report the case. The Senate passed the bill, but it's still waiting on approval from a House committee.
House Bill 3152
Coming from the House side, HB 3152 is a bill by Houston Democrat Senfronia Thompson that would improve the care that a sexual assault survivor receives at a hospital. The bill has passed in the House and is headed to the Senate floor.
House Bill 1729
HB 1729, by Dallas Democrat Victoria Neave, will help the state pay for testing its backlog of rape kits. In order to make sure DNA evidence gets tested, anybody can now make a donation while renewing their driver’s license at the DMV. The bill made it quickly through both chambers of the Legislature. It’s expected to be signed into law.
Jen Rice is a legislative intern with the Texas Station Collaborative, a statewide partnership among the following public radio stations: KERA, KUT in Dallas, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, Houston Public Media and Marfa Public Radio.