House approves underage-drinking amnesty in reporting sex assaults


Highlights

Under SB 966, a minor reporting a sexual assault would be exempt from prosecution for underage drinking.

The measure is among a handful dealing with campus sexual assault that lawmakers are considering.

The Texas House on Friday gave final approval to a measure granting underage-drinking amnesty to a minor who reports a sexual assault, as well as preliminary approval to two other bills dealing with campus sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking.

All three measures were authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Senate Bill 966, which now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott, would amend the Alcoholic Beverage Code, effective Sept. 1. A minor reporting a sexual assault against the minor or another person would be exempt from prosecution for underage drinking. It’s intended to encourage victims and witnesses to report such assaults. Reluctance to report has been a significant challenge for colleges and universities seeking to address sexual assaults.

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SB 968, which is expected to receive final approval by the House over the weekend, would require public and private colleges and universities to offer electronic reporting of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking, whether on or off campus. An option for anonymous reporting also would be required.

An amendment offered by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and approved without objection requires schools to provide students information via email on the protocol for filing a report with a campus Title IX coordinator. The amendment would also allow an alleged victim and an alleged perpetrator to drop a course in which both are enrolled, and both would also be offered counseling.

SB 969, which is also expected to win final approval by the House, says a victim of, or witness to, sexual assault who reports it can’t be sanctioned by a school for violating its student conduct code, including a rule on underage drinking.

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Yet another measure on the topic, House Bill 16, passed the lower chamber May 2 and cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday after being retooled by Watson.

A wider-ranging approach than the other bills, HB 16, authored by Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, calls for heightening awareness by devoting a web page to the issue with a link on each university’s home page, and by mandating that the topic be included in freshman orientation. In addition, it would require schools to have a disciplinary process that grants the accused and the alleged victim equal access to relevant evidence. It would also require training for campus police officers in responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment, dating violence and stalking.



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