NAICU Washington Update

Focus on Campus Sexual Assault Issues Continues in Washington

June 27, 2014

Campus sexual assaults remained a priority in Washington this week with a Senate hearing and a roundtable discussion, following the recent publishing of a set of proposed regulations.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) concluded the last of three sexual assault roundtables, while the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the hearing: “Sexual Assault on Campus: Working to Ensure Student Safety.”

In addition, the Education Department published proposed regulations recently implementing the changes made by the Violence Against Women Act to the Clery campus safety provisions of the Higher Education Act. The Department will accept public comments on the proposals until July 21. (See related Washington Update story.)

Roundtable: Administrative Process and Criminal Justice System Forum (June 23)

Senator Mc Caskill’s third roundtable focused on the interaction between campus procedures and the criminal justice system in addressing campus sexual assaults. Much of the discussion centered on the differing interests, responsibilities, and procedures of institutions and law enforcement. These differences, as well as differences in the resources available on campus and in the surrounding community, create challenges in identifying appropriate solutions.

The panel discussed proposals such as increasing grant support for prevention and training programs, requiring all Title IX coordinators receive training from a federal trainer, the development of a model statute defining “consent,” establishing graduated responses such as variable penalties, and ways in which to identify and reduce overregulation of campuses. In the latter category, Senator McCaskill raised current “timely warning” requirements as an example of where campuses should have greater discretion in determining whether or not the specific circumstances of a sexual assault case warrants such a warning. She indicated she was continuing to work on legislation and hopes to introduce a bipartisan bill later this year.

Additional Background 

A webcast of the June 23 roundtable, along with related documents may be found here.

Information about the two previous roundtables may be found here.

Hearing: “Sexual Assault on Campus: Working to Ensure Student Safety” (June 26)

The Senate HELP Committee hearing focused on suggestions for amendments to the Higher Education Act.

The liveliest exchanges came between Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, and the committee leadership. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) suggested it would make sense to develop a graduated set of penalties for Title IX violations, rather than relying solely on the “nuclear option” of withdrawing all funds to punish a violation. Ms. Lhamon disagreed, expressing her concern that institutions would not expect the Department to withdraw all funds if they knew that lesser penalties were available. She also indicated that institutions had to make additional expenditures in order to meet Title IX requirements, so that was an intermediate penalty already in effect.

Ranking Member Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), raised concerns about the process by which the Office of Civil Rights develops Title IX guidance—noting that such guidance has the force of law, but does not go through a formal rulemaking process. Contrasting that process with the negotiated rulemaking proceedings that led to proposed changes to the Clery campus crime requirements, he suggested there is a need to provide for greater public input into the development of Title IX guidance.

As has been the case in other discussions of campus sexual assault issues, the importance of conducting campus climate surveys was emphasized by several witnesses. There was also considerable discussion of the respective roles of institutions and law enforcement authorities. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) drew the committee’s attention to legislation she and several other members have introduced—the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014 (S. 2164)—to require colleges to develop policies and procedures for addressing harassment on campus and on other Clery Act locations. This proposal is included in the reauthorization proposal released by Senator Harkin earlier this week. (See related story.)

In addition, drawing from the recent debate over handling sexual assault in military settings, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) raised questions regarding the handling of these cases in ROTC programs and at the military academies. Because the military academies do not receive Title IV student aid funds, they are not required to publish annual Clery Act crime reports. Senator Harkin indicated he would include language in HEA reauthorization legislation to require them to do so.

Additional Resources

For an overview of federal activities related to sexual assault on campus, see: May 19, 2014, Washington Update.

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