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Senators advance bills in response to LSU misconduct scandal

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Louisiana senators Wednesday started moving legislation prompted by the sexual misconduct scandals at Louisiana State University, measures aimed at tightening rules for how colleges must handle allegations of sexual assault, harassment and dating violence.

The proposals, advanced without objection by the Senate Education Committee, grew out of repeated hearings held by female lawmakers after a blistering independent report detailed years of widespread mishandling of misconduct claims at LSU.

“I think we are sending a clear and resounding message to the students” that lawmakers are responding to the controversy, said Sen. Regina Barrow, the Baton Rouge Democrat who led those hearings.

The primary bill led by Franklinton Sen. Beth Mizell, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, would spell out the expected coordination between law enforcement and campuses, add new training requirements and detail when employees must report complaints or incidents they witness.

The proposal, which moves next to the full Senate for debate, would prohibit retaliation against people who report allegations and limit their liability from lawsuits. It also would require colleges to fire employees who don’t report allegations or make reports that are knowingly false.

Mizell, joined by several female lawmakers pushing the bill, said the measure would close loopholes found in prior college campus safety laws.

“We have to put a value on the security of our students,” Mizell said.

Campuses would have to submit reports on how they handle sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination complaints under federal Title IX laws and publish those reports online. The state’s top higher education policymaking board, the Board of Regents, would have to compile an annual report with the information and submit that to the governor and lawmakers.

The proposal also would clearly spell out that people who allege misconduct would be able to obtain copies of their police reports, in response to an instance where one LSU student was denied access to the report filed about her allegations against a football player.

LSU interim system President Tom Galligan, who wasn’t in charge at the time of the allegations in the report, supported the bill.

“We think it helps us to provide an absolutely safe campus,” he told senators.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said the proposed legislation “is vital in the continuous steps we must take to address systemic failure.”

The Senate committee also advanced a companion proposal from Barrow that would create a 15-member advisory panel to regularly evaluate laws and policies involving the reporting, investigation and response to allegations of sexual misconduct and violence by or against college students. That bill also heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

LSU hired independent law firm Husch Blackwell to review its handling of Title IX complaints after reporting by USA Today scrutinized the university’s handling of sexual assault cases implicating two former football players.

In response to the report, Galligan pledged to follow all the Husch Blackwell recommendations for improvement. He’s worked to create a new office to handle Title IX complaints and said the university will boost spending on such investigations and response work.

But he’s faced significant criticism for LSU’s decision to briefly suspend two employees rather than fire anyone implicated in years of botched responses to misconduct allegations.

Meanwhile, former football coach Les Miles was pushed out of his coaching job at Kansas after the report detailed allegations of inappropriate behavior with students during his tenure at LSU, which Miles denies. Former LSU system President F. King Alexander resigned from his job leading Oregon State because of his role in the mishandling of sexual misconduct cases at LSU.

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The bills are filed as Senate Bills 230 and 232.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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