Texas senator files five Title IX bills

Photo credit: Dayday Wynn

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

Texas State Senator and Baylor alumnus Kirk Watson filed five bills relating to sexual assault and Title IX on Tuesday.

If passed, Senate Bills 966-970 would require changes to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code and higher education Title IX policies, including an amnesty policy, an online reporting system for sexual assault cases and anonymous reporting.

“There’s little question that the scandal at Baylor has focused attention and highlighted issues related to sexual assault on campuses,” Watson wrote in an email to the Lariat. “But this isn’t just about Baylor. Institutions across our state and our nation are facing challenges related to sexual assault, and it’s time our state takes a step forward in protecting survivors/victims’ rights.”

The bills will require higher education institutions to amend their Title IX policies. SB 968 requires that universities have an electronic reporting system, allow anonymous reports and accept reports regardless of the location of the alleged event. SB 969 would require universities to give amnesty to any student that who reports a case of sexual assault that they witnessed or were victim of, even if that individual was in violation of the university’s student conduct policy. SB 970 requires that all higher education institutions adopt a policy on sexual assault that would apply to any student or employee of the institution.

According to SB 970, the sexual assault policies must include standards for affirmative consent and must be available to all students and employees. It also requires that the university must implement a public awareness campaign of the affirmative consent standards, students entering the university must attend an orientation regarding the sexual assault policies and the institution must review its policy every two years.

Baylor’s Title IX policy is already in compliance with many of the requirements in the new bills.

“Baylor University took unprecedented corrective actions that led to leadership changes within the university administration and athletic department and 105 recommendations that have been well-documented to strengthen the safety and security of our students,” Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media communications at Baylor, wrote in an email to the Lariat.

SB 967 would amend the current code regarding sexual assault to include alcohol as a substance that could be used to impair a person’s ability to consent to sex or resist an act.

The current code states that a person commits an offense if the offender “administers or provides flunitrazepam, otherwise known as rohypnol, gamma hydroxybutyrate, or ketamine to the victim of the offense with the intent of facilitating the commission of the offense.”

Rohypnol, gamma hydroxybutyrate and ketamine are the most common “date rape” drugs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health.

The new bill omits the names of specific substances and says that a person commits an offense if they administer “any substance capable of impairing the victim’s ability to appraise the nature of the act or to resist the act.”

Another statement is made in SB 970 regarding alcohol, stating that all higher education institutions must include a policy to reflect that a person cannot consent to sex if they are incapacitated due to alcohol or any other substance, condition or state.

“This provision could include alcohol. Currently, the provision only allows for what some people call ‘date rape’ drugs. Under my bill, administering alcohol to the point of incapacitation is taken just as seriously as giving someone [gamma hydroxybutyrate],” Watson wrote in an email to the Lariat.

Watson explained that these bills can affect change by starting a conversation among students. He wrote that some universities many have sexual assault policies, but students are unaware of them. SB 970 would require a public awareness campaign regarding the institution’s affirmative consent standard, he wrote.

“As with all bills, there will always be some pushback, especially with such a sensitive topic as sexual assault. With that being said, I do expect bipartisan support,” Watson wrote.

Watson wrote that students have the right to feel safe on their campuses and that people have a right to their bodies and privacy. He also wrote that he wants victims and survivors to know that they are heard and cared about.

“We hope that these bills encourage reporting if a victim or witnesses feels compelled to do so. These bills are about changing our culture. We want to make sure the law reflects our priorities as a state, including protecting a person’s right to protect their own body,” Watson wrote.