The Missouri Senate spent roughly six hours last night debating a controversial bill that would significantly change the way Missouri’s colleges and universities handle sexual assault and harassment cases. Debate continued into this morning about Sen. Gary Romine’s bill that would require an administrative commission to hear the complaints, students involved could have an attorney, cross-examination would be allowed and the accused could appeal.
“We have a problem with Title IX currently. We do need a better procedure in place. Given the fact that we do have Title IX and that we do have a system within higher institutions to deal with assault complaints, whether it be an informal or a formal complaint, we have to make that system as good as we can,” says Romine, R-Farmington.
Title IX, a federal statute, protects people from sexual discrimination in education programs.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, points to the Fifth Amendment granting Americans due process.
“This is one of the foundational principles of our Republic – the idea that you have the right to face your accusers, that you have the assumption of innocence, that you have the right to move through a specific process to prevent precisely some of the situations that again we’ve seen evidence that this is a problem in the state,” says Eigel.
He says, in certain instances, the culture at some of Missouri’s colleges and universities have reached an unhealthy place and is not conducive to elements of free speech and fair treatment in the review process.
“I think that this bill begins to take a stand against some of the more egregious examples where we’ve gotten away from these very bedrock foundational principles,” Eigel says. “This is black and white in the Constitution. This is something that I think should garner bipartisan support because I don’t know of anyone who wants to end up on the side of not wanting to see citizens get due process when they’re accused of a crime.”
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, says state-appointed public defenders should be included for those who cannot afford an attorney. Otherwise, she says the accused are not getting just treatment.
“This is about protecting young, wealthy white boys who think that they can do and get away with anything because their dad or their mom can go get an attorney,” says Nasheed. “This is going to impact young, poor black men in universities. Who are going to pay for their attorney? They probably got Pell grants to be in the school. Not just the grants but scholarships – football scholarships, basketball scholarships. If it wasn’t for those scholarships they may not be able to afford to go to college, let alone pay for an attorney.”
Under Romine’s bill, any higher education institution that does not comply with the act would be ineligible to receive state funds.
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, urged the chamber to wait until after the Trump administration releases its federal Title IX guidelines – to have a single standard in Missouri and not put the state’s universities at risk.
“What I’m worried about with this bill is sort of a double jeopardy factor if the universities don’t comply with what we’re trying to require them to do, they could face repercussions from the appropriations process,” says Holsman. “If they do comply with what we’re trying to do, they could face repercussions in the financial aid sector – Pell grants and other types of financial aid for the students. I don’t think anyone will say that having an appeals process is inherently a bad thing for the system, but why take this step, right now, instead of waiting?”
The chamber did not vote on Senate bill 259.
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