New bill could limit Georgia universities’ role in sexual assault cases

Matthew Enfinger

Georgia Rep. Earl Ehrhart proposed House Bill 51 (HB51) last month, and if passed, the bill would limit the role of Georgia colleges and universities in the investigation and punishment of sexual assault cases.

Ehrhart proposed the new bill this January in hopes of protecting sexual assault victims as well as the accused and limit Georgia universities’ involvement in sexual assault cases.

Currently, the Office of Title IX Coordinator is responsible for overseeing the investigation and resolution of sexual assault complaints. A hearing is also conducted by the Title IX Coordinator with a designated panel of at least three members, none of whom are students.

Institutions under the new bill would not be able to investigate campus sexual abuse claims unless police were involved.

Instead, school officials will be required to report any information regarding sexual assault felonies to the law enforcement of the jurisdiction in which the institution is located.

Georgia Southern Speaks:

“It would be a huge disservice to our students,” Laura McCullough, police chief at Georgia Southern University, said in response to the proposed bill.

McCullough said she would prefer a collaborative process to increase transparency instead of “handing over cases to another agency.”

Joel Wright, GS equal opportunity director and Title IX coordinator, said the university’s involvement in sexual assault cases benefits students by “shining a light on to the issue as a whole and giving it the focus that it needs to have.”

Wright said the judicial process is fair through procedural safeguards all throughout the process, as stated in the University System of Georgia’s (USG) sexual misconduct policy, that help to ensure everyone’s due process is being taken into consideration.

Wright also stated that investigators have all been certified and trained, as opposed to Rep. Ehrhart’s claims that universities are under-trained.

“Ours have not only been trained by the USG, which is a requirement, but also by other national organizations,” Wright said.

Although many changes are estimated to come from HB51, student’s access to on-campus counseling should not be affected due to the fact that counseling centers are covered under Georgia law by privileged communication.

“I think it’s important for victims of sexual violence to have options,” Jodi Caldwell, director of the Counseling Center, said. She said her department is attending a meeting to see if and how the counseling department could be affected by HB51.

William Lee, freshman marketing major, said HB51 could be “a good thing,” but believes the university should still be involved.

Lee said, “Anything negative that happens affects the student campus and the student body, so [the university] should have a hand in it.”

For more information regarding HB51, click here.