What is GA HB 51?
As described in Sage Gerard’s recent article, Support GA House Bill 51 to secure due process in universities, this is a proposed law which would bar institutions of higher learning from substituting unbalanced on-campus hearings and penalties for the legal system in cases of alleged student sexual misconduct. This would apply to universities, technical colleges, or any other postsecondary educational institution which is eligible for state tuition equalization grants. The text of the bill is available here:
This would require postsecondary institution employees who receive information leading them to believe that a felony has been committed against or by a student or on the institution’s property would be required to forward that information to the appropriate authorities.
This is not an unusual or abnormal requirement for professionals in care-related industries such as education. Various laws exist requiring teachers, school administrators, and school counseling personnel to report to appropriate authorities any suspected abuse of their students. Health care workers at all professional levels are also required to report suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation, or misappropriation of patient property or resources, drug diversion, and violations of patients’ medical or financial privacy. Childcare providers face similar requirements regarding abuse or neglect, as do care providers for the elderly and people with intellectual disabilities. Significant penalties can be leveled against professionals who violate these laws.
Due process protections within the bill dictate that it is up to law enforcement authorities to determine whether the allegation merits investigation and prosecution. It further requires that any investigation undertaken by postsecondary institutions’ staff must be performed by “a campus law enforcement agency staffed by law enforcement officers who are certified peace officers by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.”
Once again, it is not unusual for the law to mandate that a complex service with potentially serious outcomes be limited to the practice of qualified professionals. Licensing and other forms of certification are used to denote qualification in a wide variety of fields, including, law enforcement, private investigation, and legal practice. Uncertified or unlicensed individuals who recklessly or fraudulently dabble in practices within these domains with the potential for serious outcomes for their targets can also face significant penalty.
The right to the presumption of innocence is protected in the bill with language barring postsecondary institutions from penalizing students who have been accused of felony crimes but have not been convicted or entered a no contest plea, but does allow suspension during investigation “if the postsecondary institution finds, following a due process hearing, that allowing the student to continue at the postsecondary institution poses an immediate threat to the life, health, or safety of the student body.” This applies to postsecondary institutions’ treatment of students accused of felony crimes a standard that is similar to that which guides how criminal suspects are handled within the justice system with regard to the accused’s freedom of movement during an investigation and trial.
To eliminate contradictions in law, the bill also contains a statement which would repeal existing Georgia state law which would be in conflict with HB 51.
Why is this needed?
Currently, postsecondary institutions’ handling of student sexual misconduct allegations is guided by a 2011 memo from the U.S. Department of Education commonly referred to as the Dear Colleague letter. This letter was put into law as a section of the 2014 VAWA reauthorization act called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, a topic I’ve covered before, writing for A Voice For Men. Among the Campus SaVE act’s requirements is a stipulation that higher education institutions to which Title IX apply must have sexual misconduct prevention policies which mandate using college disciplinary boards as substitutes for courtrooms, complete with campus penalty which could effectively end a student’s academic career. The law’s language indicates that guilt is to be presumed and mandates the use of a “preponderance of evidence” standard rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard which the justice system uses for accusations of felonious sexual assault. The accuser can even appeal if the initial hearing results in a not guilty decision, subjecting the accused to the campus equivalent of double jeopardy.
The law also increases the list of offenses that universities must report among statistics on campus crime. It is, in other words, a false-accuser support bill, with a built-in stat-counter to assist in the manufacture of evidence for its own support.
As a consequence of the requirements laid out in the Campus SaVE act, numerous students (mostly male) have been deprived of access to higher education following accusations of sexual misconduct, and many of them have sued their universities over discrimination and violation of their due process rights. Their stories have revealed that the system created on postsecondary institution campuses by federal law and policy has resulted in the facilitation of false accusations, leading to significant punishment of students whose conduct as indicated by evidence did not merit it.
In addition, by requiring that institution personnel handling misconduct allegations stress to students that they do not have to report criminal conduct to authorities, the bill encourages the substitution of the easier-to-win campus “justice” system in place of real police work and courts, potentially leading to actual perpetrators of violent, felonious sex crimes facing no jail time whatsoever.
If the Campus SaVE Act is federal law, what will GA HB 51 achieve?
The answer to that begins with what the bill will not do.
It will not prevent on-campus investigation of sexual misconduct allegations, nor will it prevent institutions from handling proven violations according to their written policies.
It merely requires that these investigations be handled by properly certified personnel, requires proper reporting of criminal allegations to the correct authorities, and protects the due process rights of the accused.
If passed, this bill could also become a template for other states’ handling of this issue. It even has the potential to become a template for legal reform at the federal level. Given the current situation with a growing number of cases leading to lawsuits against institutions for their practical application of existing law, such reform is badly needed.
Why does GA HB 51 need my support?
This bill faces opposition from groups defending existing policy, and they are pressuring legislators to vote against reform. The bill’s opponents are using false claims that the bill would protect perpetrators of sexual violence from facing any consequences to discourage representatives from supporting it. If this bill is defeated, the effort to enact reform at the state level will have to begin again with another bill, delaying any potential benefit to students by the time it takes to go through that process again.
What can I do?
Representatives need to hear from citizens who want to see this bill become law. Georgians can find out who represents your district on this page. If you’re not sure how to explain your support for the bill, Sage Gerard’s article includes a template you can use either verbatim or for inspiration.
Calling your representative’s office is another good method of contact, one which can indicate to the representative that you are passionate about the issue. It is wise to write down the gist of what you plan to say before calling so that the points you want to make do not get lost in the course of discussion.
Because this bill would affect policy on educational institution campuses, it is also not necessary to be a resident of Georgia for your interest in seeing it pass to be worth consideration to legislators. It is of interest to legislators that a decision to reject the bill could result in potential rejection of the state’s educational institutions by prospective students or their parents. U.S. citizens who are not Georgia residents could contact any representative on the above linked list for this purpose.
To communicate this, the template Sage created could be modified as follows:
I want to thank you so much for your consideration of HB 51 regarding the treatment of criminal allegations on post-secondary institutions. I understand you have faced a lot of opposition to the bill from those who feel they are doing the right thing by expediting justice, but I applaud your courage for any efforts you make to ensure due process where it is missing. This is of particular interest of me as a [student or parent of a student] interested in pursuing postsecondary education following graduation from high school. Knowing whether [my or my child’s] civil rights are protected is an important consideration when determining which institution [I or my child] should attend.
If you have not already done so, please support HB 51 to establish a more consistent and functional judicial system as it reaches into universities and our students’ futures.
A parent could conceivably add the line “Under the current system, my child could potentially see his academic and future career prospects easily destroyed by a false accusation.” It may also be worth noting to legislators that the current system may be leading to sexual predators escaping the authority of the justice system due to the substitution of campus courts. Legislators who do not care about the plight of the falsely accused may care very much about that.
This is an opportunity for significant activism in relation to a major men’s rights issue, the steady creep of increasing infringement on due process rights by badly written legislation. It could lead not only to reform at the state level, but the creation of an example which activists can encourage other states and federal legislators to follow. We may never get a better opportunity for this than we have now, in the current political environment in which the authoritarian establishment has been challenged by the nation’s voters.
Representatives are already hearing from opponents of the bill from all over the United States. It is vital, then, that they hear from us as well.
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