After reviving a bill that would restrict universities’ role in investigating allegations of sexual assault, lawmakers ended this year’s legislative session without a vote.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted March 23 to table House Bill 51 amid outcry from sexual assault victims and advocates. The bill would require universities to report allegations of sexual assault on campus to authorities rather than conduct their own investigations. It would also prevent them from taking disciplinary actions against the accused student, like suspension from school.
Members of the committee cited concerns that there was not enough time to address the complex issues involved with the proposal before the end of the legislative session.
Days later, lawmakers revived the bill by attaching it to Senate Bill 71, a proposal that previously related to bankruptcy exemptions. In a practice known as substitution, SB 71 was stripped of its original language and replaced with the language of HB 51.
“It’s no longer Senate Bill 71 except in number,” Rep. Earl Ehrhart, the bill’s original sponsor, told the House of Representatives.
After passing in the House by a vote of 102-56, the new proposal was then sent back to the Senate.
While SB 71 was nearly identical to the original HB 51, it no longer prohibited universities from pursuing disciplinary action against a student accused of sexual assault. Public universities would have been able to suspend or expel the accused student, as they can under current law.
Student activists and sexual assault advocates lobbied at the State Capitol daily in opposition to the new bill, arguing that SB 71 protects those accused of sexual assault at the expense of victims.
Ehrhart said the purpose of the bill was to protect the rights of students falsely accused of sexual assault.
A conference committee of three senators and three representatives was appointed to reach a compromise over the bill, but they were unable to do so, effectively killing the bill.
In short, state law remains the same: public universities and colleges in Georgia are not required to report alleged felonies to law enforcement. They are free to take internal disciplinary action against students accused of any felony, including sexual assault.