Sexual Assault Bill Ahead

Senator Claire McCaskill says legislation she will introduce this fall will eye tougher penalties for colleges -- but could provide relief from burdensome reporting requirements. 

June 24, 2014

WASHINGTON -- Two Senate Democrats who are working on legislation to combat campus sexual assault said Monday that they expect to introduce a bipartisan bill when Congress returns from its August recess.

Wrapping up a series of roundtable discussions to solicit input on legislation, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said that while she’s open to incorporating the proposal into the coming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, she’s also prepared to advance it separately and more quickly.

“This is difficult for senators to block because of the compelling nature of it,” she told reporters Monday. “So I want it to have the capability of moving forward on its own.”

McCaskill said that she is working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in crafting the legislation, including Republican Senators Dean Heller of Nevada, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut, who is also helping draft the legislation, said Monday that he expects consensus from both sides of the aisle.  

“This issue has legs of its own. It’s a cause whose time has come” he said. “It’s on everyone’s mind these days: parents, administrators, legislators, law enforcement.”

McCaskill said that the legislation would include a range of topics, including “some kind of mandatory training for people who are actually investigating” campus sexual assault cases.

She also floated the idea of requiring that colleges impose consistent penalties on students found responsible for sexual assault on campuses.

“Maybe the loss of student funding or perhaps being on the transcript permanently,” she suggested.  

McCaskill has previously said she’s eyeing stiffer penalties for colleges that violate federal rules on reporting and handling sexual assault cases. She’s also had some tough words for how a higher education lobbying group responded to her effort to survey colleges on campus sexual assault.

But, likely to the delight of many institutions, McCaskill indicated Monday that she plans to explore whether some existing campus safety regulations are overly burdensome to colleges.

She said she had discussed her legislation with Senator Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, who has long pushed for deregulation of higher education. Alexander, she said, urged her to look for ways to streamline and simplify campus safety rules.

McCaskill said that she would be looking at whether campus safety has become too “compliance-heavy” for institutions.

“Are they so caught up in everything we’re demanding they tell us that they don’t really have time to do their jobs?” she asked. 

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