Following a state audit and a legislative hearing that found deficiencies in how campuses are handling incidents of sexual assault and harassment, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said he will pursue legislative responses in three key areas: staff and student training and disciplinary action.
With time running out in this legislative session, those proposals are likely to come early next year, Williams said, if the state's three public university segments don't "do what they are already empowered to do" to handle lawmakers' concerns.
A bill from state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, that would set an "affirmative consent" standard for campus investigations is currently pending in the Assembly.
Future legislation would focus on:
Mandatory training for all university employees.
The state audit concluded that while staff members who handle complaints of sexual violence receive adequate training, those who may be the first point of contact for a student, such as resident advisers and athletic coaches, are not prepared to respond to these incidents and risk mishandling them.
Improved prevention and response education for students.
State law requires all California State University schools and requests that University of California campuses provide information to incoming students during campus orientation, but "there is a mix of how much that is attended and absorbed," Williams said.
He would like to see not just an initial required session, but annual follow-ups on the university code of conduct, consent and bystander training.
"People around need to know that they need to intervene," he said. "So much tragedy could be avoided."
Harsher punishment for perpetrators, including expulsion.
Consequences for assailants are "not significant or harsh enough to act as a deterrent," Williams said, and light penalties are undermining students' trust in their schools to handle cases of sexual violence.
Community colleges should also be able to expel students from the entire system, like UC or CSU, he added, so that they can't just transfer to another campus.
Punishment has been the biggest point of contention surrounding campus sexual violence. While victims have pushed for stronger responses from universities, a growing opposition has countered that expelling students could ruin the rest of their lives.
Williams acknowledged that this last proposal could be controversial, but said it provides an opportunity for justice that victims do not always get.
"Rape is a very difficult thing to prosecute," he said. With their lower "preponderance of evidence" standards, "there is a real role that schools can play that law enforcement can't" in these incidents.
PHOTO: People walk through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus on June 1, 2011. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg