Lawmakers express optimism bill will succeed
A set of bills in the Missouri Legislature proposes significant reforms to the state’s Title IX procedures by allowing accusers and accused students to take their cases in front of the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission.
They also ban guilt-presuming language and empower the attorney general to fine schools found to have violated due process rights. Particularly important for accused students, the legislation would also make the publication of false and malicious statements that someone is guilty of fornication, adultery, sexual assault, or rape legally punishable.
Lawmakers are expressing optimism that it can be enacted into law this year.
Under HB-573, college students would be able to request a hearing in front of the state’s AHC in any Title IX-related case in the University of Missouri System. It would also exert more pressure on institutions of higher education to protect due process rights through potential fines and legal action from the state’s attorney general.
“It’s a time to put the protection back in place,” Rep. Dean Dohrman, the House bill’s sponsor, told The College Fix in a phone interview. “The core of the bill is to make sure that our fundamental rights are in place, that due process is followed.”
Sen. Gary Romine, the sponsor of the Senate companion bill (SB-259), told The Fix the bill’s purpose was “putting responsibility on the school to make sure the students know their rights.”
Both Romine and Dohrman expressed optimism that the legislation would be passed at some point this year, given that Missouri has a Republican “trifecta” – control of the governor’s seat and majorities in both legislative chambers. “I think it has good prospects,” Dohrman said.
The bills are marked as “emergency acts” that will take effect immediately due to being deemed “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health, welfare, peace, and safety.”
The AHC “acts as a neutral and independent hearing officer for the state to avoid situations where a state agency acts as investigator, prosecutor, and decision maker,” according to the state of Missouri’s website. The legislation would effectively make Title IX proceedings more like legal cases where witnesses would be allowed to testify and evidence presented in trial-like hearings.
It could also potentially take the pressure off colleges to process Title IX complaints by having complainants and respondents take their cases directly to the commission.
The bills makes significant adjustments to current Title IX procedures, which do not currently allow the commission to hear such proceedings.
They also allow students to request a hearing in front of the commission as an appeal of any Title IX case if students received disciplinary action by the institution in the outcome of the case. Students would also be able to request expedited hearings if the outcome of their case was suspension or expulsion.
In order to exert more pressure on schools to follow due process, the bills empower the attorney general to investigate any alleged or suspected violations of the grievance procedure, and would fine schools that are found to have violated the due process rights of students $250,000.
Any breach of due process between an institution and a student would be considered an unlawful act by the attorney general, who would be able to collect data about Title IX cases from institutions.
The bills would also clarify the terminology used in Title IX cases. They require that colleges ensure “all parties use the terms ‘complainant’ and ‘respondent’ and refrain from using the term ‘survivor’ or any other term that presumes guilt before an actual finding of guilt.”
Donell Young, assistant vice chancellor for Student Engagement and Success at the University of Missouri, told The Columbia Daily Tribune that the bills could silence students who come forward about their experiences.
“It could silence some students, one that was already afraid to go through the legal process anyway, but it can also stop them from going through a university process because they don’t want the double taxation of going through the process,” he said.
“If due process is followed, the truth will come out,” Dohrman told The Fix. He stressed that the focus of his bill is to ensure that due process is followed through the proceedings, and that the “core of the bill is to make sure that our fundamental rights are in place.”
“Everyone takes sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously,” he continued. “We want to make sure it’s a good process that everyone can believe in.”
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