Freshman legislator Shelly Hettleman is calling for increased efforts on the issue of sexual assault at Maryland colleges.
Hettleman’s bill, HB 571, had a hearing in the House Appropriations committee on March 10. A vote on whether or not to move the bill to the House of Delegates’ floor is expected soon.
“It is an important issue that is finally being discussed,” the District 11 Democrat, who won election as a delegate last November, said.
The bill would remove at least one barrier to reporting sexual assault incidents, establish agreements between institutions and crisis centers and mandate sexual assault climate surveys on Maryland campuses.
“My work in domestic violence has taught me that people who are abused have to be given back some power themselves,” she said. “So they have to be at the center of the decision making.”
The bill would give students who come forward as victims or witnesses immunity from possible student conduct violations, e.g. an alcohol violation, if the violation occurred around the time of the incident and didn’t put others at risk. It requires institutions to enter into formal agreements with local law enforcement as well as a rape crisis program, sexual assault coalition or both to provide services to victims of sexual assault and improve the institution’s response to sexual assault incidents.
The bill also mandates an annual “sexual assault survey,” the first of which would need to be administered by June 2016 at Maryland higher education institutions. The survey would act as a campus climate survey, gauging students’ perceptions of sexual assault on campus, prevalence of incidents and awareness of resources, Hettleman said.
Institutions would then have to report findings to the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), which would in turn publish results online and report to the state.
In the event that her bill does not pass, Hettleman, who sits on the Appropriations committee, said she added budget language that passed the committee that would require campus reports on their progress in sexual assault policies and for the MHEC to report on progress campuses have made as well.
She said the University System of Maryland has gotten in front of the issue and passed a comprehensive sexual assault policy in June but said some other institutions have more work to do. Her bill covers private universities in the state as well.