February 10, 2015

VA House, Senate seek balance on campus assault bills

See Also: House approves day care regs, nearly 200 other bills
2-10-2015 Virginia:

The Virginia House and Senate each passed a series of reforms Tuesday that are meant to fight on-campus sexual assaults.

Key to the debate is just how campus officials and police proceed when a victim talks to professors or other campus officials about an attack but doesn't necessarily want her name known to police. While therapists and some others are allowed to keep those reports to themselves, faculty and administrators are expected to send them up the chain of command.

The new legislation would create teams of campus and police officials. These teams would review cases without the victim's name at first, running a background check on the alleged assailant.

Among other things, they'd see if he's a potential repeat offender.

At some point under the still-evolving bills it would be up to a university's Title IX Coordinator – a federally required position on campus – to decide whether the public's need for investigation outweighs a victim's desire for secrecy.

Legislators have been back and forth over how to strike this balance, and the House and Senate versions of this legislation handle some things differently. The two sides will have to negotiate away those differences to send a final bill to the governor.

Neither bill would take away a commonwealth's attorney's power to decide whether to prosecute, nor a victim's right to decide whether to testify.

The House proposal is in House Bill 1930, which passed the chamber Tuesday 97-3. The Senate has Senate Bill 712, which passed that chamber unanimously on Tuesday.

A number of other bills passed Tuesday on this issue, including legislation that would require campus police to inform their local commonwealth's attorney of a sexual assault investigation within 48 hours.

Bills in both chambers would also require colleges and universities to provide victims with confidential counseling from a local crisis center or other victim's advocate, including counseling on legal options.

Senate Bill 1193, from state Sen. Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, would require "a prominent notation" on student transcripts when students are suspended or kicked out over a reported sex offense, or if they drop out during a campus inquiry.

The idea is to keep violent students from transferring to a new school without the school knowing their past.

Schools must also come up with a procedure to remove the notation if it later discovers the student didn't violate campus rules. This bill also passed the Senate unanimously.

There appears to be support for such a measure in the House, but it hasn't cleared the chamber.

Some, including Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, have expressed concerns about these notations. They're not decided in a court of law, but by student judiciaries or campus administrators, and the accused doesn't have the same rights there as he would in the courts system. ..Source.. by Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759

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