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Lawmaker Wants to Impose Financial Penalties On Schools That Fail To Comply

by Hugh McQuaid | Feb 11, 2014 4:38pm
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Posted to: Courts, Education, Legal, Public Safety, State Capitol, Mansfield-Storrs

Hugh McQuaid photo

Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly

Lawmakers may consider imposing financial penalties on colleges and universities that do not enforce a number of policies to improve their response to sexual assaults on their campuses.

Legislators discussed the penalties at a Tuesday public hearing on a bill drafted this year in response to a high profile Title IX case involving the University of Connecticut. Last year, seven current and former students claimed the school violated their rights by showing “deliberate indifference” when they reported being raped or sexually harassed. Four of those students went on to sue the university in federal court.

The bill up for discussion Tuesday would create a number of new requirements for the state’s public and private higher education institutions. However, Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said many schools already have the policies similar to those that the bill requires — they’re just not uniformly enforced.

Flexer asked that the legislature’s Higher Education Committee consider imposing financial penalties on schools if they do not comply with requirements under the bill or cooperate with law enforcement investigations into sexual assaults on campuses.

“This legislation before you and the improvements to it being presented today need to be taken seriously and financial penalties will ensure that it is,” she told the committee.

Those sanctions are not currently part of the legislation the committee is considering. Flexer said the penalties could be imposed in a number of different ways but she’s modeling the proposal after similar policies used by the federal government. If a school violates the federal code protecting students from sexual and domestic assaults on campuses, it can lose federal funding.

“We should do the same thing if an institution of higher education in Connecticut that receives state funding clearly violates this legislation or does not work cooperatively with law enforcement to investigate these crimes, then we should look at taking away some of the resources the state gives them,” she said.

Currently the bill includes a number of new reporting requirements for Connecticut’s public and private colleges and universities, including an annual update to lawmakers regarding how they handled sexual assault incidents reported on or around their campuses. Schools also will need to provide victims with clear written information on their rights and options at the time they report an assault.

The legislation requires schools to maintain trained Sexual Assault Response Teams as well as formal agreements with community sexual assault crisis centers to ensure that victims have the option of accessing supportive services off-campus. Colleges and universities also would be required to allow victims to anonymously report their attack.

After Tuesday’s hearing Rep. Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said the financial penalties Flexer called for may be hard to impose with regard to some portions of the bill. But Willis said she would give thought to that and other ideas the committee heard from the public as they work to improve the draft legislation.

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