AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – In response to the Baylor University rape scandal, the Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a measure that would require school employees and student leaders to report sex crimes within 48 hours or face criminal charges.
The Senate approved SB 576 by 30-1 vote — one of its co-authors was the only No vote. The bill by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, requires all school employees and “the highest ranking member of a student organization” to report allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, family violence, or stalking” to a school’s president or chief executive officer.
It bars employees and students from delegating their duty to report to another person.
Student leaders face expulsion or suspension for at least one year, while employees face a Class B misdemeanor and termination if they fail to report. If employees are found to have concealed reporting an assault, they face a Class A misdemeanor, up to $4,000 in fines and one year in state prison.
“I realize these reporting requirements may be the most stringent in the country, but it is time we changed the culture on college campuses,” Huffman said. “This is totally unacceptable and Texas must lead the way on this issue.”
The bill’s co-author, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was the lone dissenting vote. He unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to exempt students and employees from reporting if the victim asked them not to. He expressed worry the bill could have a chilling effect on victims talking about their assault if they feared the people they told would be held criminally responsible for not reporting.
Huffman opposed the amendment, saying it would “gut” her bill. She said she wanted to empower people to come forward.
Baylor faces several federal lawsuits filed by female students who claim their reports of sexual assault by football players were ignored or covered up by football coaches and school administrators. The school hired an external investigator, Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton, which released a scathing report in May 2016 on how school officials bungled the reports. The scandal has claimed the jobs of former Baylor President Ken Starr, head football coach Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw.
Watson is a Baylor alumnus and maintains deep ties with the school.
“We have cultural problem on a lot of campuses, but there’s no question watching what was coming out of Baylor highlighted this for me,” Watson said. “I love Baylor University, a lot. But I have been extra disappointed and very sad about all that has gone on, and frankly, in the efforts that Baylor has made, or not made, to restore confidence.”
The nearby University of Texas released results of a student survey last month in which approximately 15 percent of female undergraduates said they had been raped. Almost 30 percent said they were subjected to unwanted touching.