New chance for Georgia bill on campus sex-assault hearings

ATLANTA | A stalled proposal to impose new rules and limits on how Georgia colleges handle sexual violence cases was given a new chance Tuesday in the legislature.


On the second day of the 2018 session, the state Senate voted without debate to move House Bill 51 to a new committee after the Senate Judiciary Committee left it in legislative limbo without a vote last year.

The measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs, has said safeguards are needed to prevent campus disciplinary proceedings from tarnishing the reputations of students accused of rapes and assaults while denying them due process.

Opponents argue Ehrhart’s bill would discourage some victims from seeking help on campus by requiring schools to report felonies, including sexual assaults, to police.

“The biggest concern has always been the mandatory reporting,” said Grace Starling, a Georgia State University law student who has organized fellow students bidding to defeat the proposal. “It would create a less safe campus environment because it would chill reporting. Students would be less willing to come forward.”

The House approved the measure last year before it ran into problems in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The full Senate on Tuesday agreed to move the bill to the chamber’s Higher Education Committee.

Ehrhart’s bill would also prevent schools from disciplining, suspending or expelling a student for actions that are under criminal investigation without a hearing “affording due process protections.” The bill doesn’t define those protections.

Ehrhart did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment Tuesday. Before the House voted last March, he said students facing campus disciplinary proceedings for sex crimes faced having “a scarlet letter branded on your forehead,” making it difficult for them to finish degrees and find jobs.

Starling said she’s not sure how the bill will fare before a new panel of lawmakers, but she plans to watch closely.