A controversial bill addressing sexual assault on college campuses cleared a key state House committee Wednesday. The Higher Education Appropriations Committee unanimously approved House Bill 51, which would require college officials to report sexual assaults and other crimes to law enforcement. Under the legislation, schools would not be allowed to conduct their own investigations. That conflicts with a federal law, known as Title IX, which says schools must investigate reports of assault or risk losing federal funds.
HB 51 is sponsored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs. Ehrhart also chairs the committee that voted on the measure. In his opening remarks, he said the bill would ensure due process for those accused of sexual assault. He said that’s especially true for low-income students.
“How are they going to stand up, the family that doesn’t have the resources?” Ehrhart said. “The football player that may be there on a scholarship? What are they going to do? How are they going to fight the power of the university legal department and a Title IX bureaucracy? And how are they going to defend themselves? Read 'To Kill a Mockingbird' if you want to know who gets the short end of the stick when due process is not the law of the land.”
The committee heard testimony from four people. Two spoke in favor of the bill, including a mother who said her son was wrongly accused of assault.
Two rape survivors spoke against it. Law student Grace Starling said the measure could discourage victims, like her, from coming forward.
"If this bill had been law three years ago, this would have effectively been the end of my power to decide anything for myself,” Starling said. “I would have been forced to do something I wasn't prepared to do."
The bill now heads to the budget-writing committee.