On June 14, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 212. This new law creates a criminal offence and authorizes administrative penalties for any employee of a Texas university who fails to report incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking against a student or employee.
SB 212 requires university employees to report sexual misconduct violations to a Title IX coordinator or deputy Title IX coordinator or they could be charged with a misdemeanor and the university will terminate their employment.
The Texas State University System has issued a 37-page policy letter for its universities in response to the passage of SB 212 called the “Texas State University System Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures.” The new policy was approved in August.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics the overall number of reported on-campus crimes decreased by 32% from 2001 to 2016. A University of Texas study conducted between 2015 and 2017 found that 10% of female undergraduate students and 4% of male undergraduate students across the University of Texas system reported being raped.
Title IX is a federal law intended to prevent students from being denied federally funded educational opportunities on the basis of sex. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed easing Title IX restrictions on how universities are expected to handle reported sexual assaults on their campuses last year. The new guidance would replace Obama-era rules that some believed did not do enough to protect the due process rights of those accused of sexual misconduct.
Abbott and the Texas Legislature passed SB 212 and two other campus safety bills partially in response to the possible changes to Title IX sexual assault reporting requirements. Texas now has one of the tightest regulations in the nation for how colleges and universities must handle cases of sexual misconduct.
There is a potential conflict between the proposed federal guidelines and the new Texas law. Under SB 212, a university employee who knows about an inappropriate comment to a student on campus that could interfere with the student’s education would need to report the incident to a Title IX coordinator. The proposed federal changes to Title IX would require a much higher standard of misconduct. It would require that sexual misconduct effectively deny a student of equal access to educational programs and activities.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the federal law and the Texas law is that non-compliance with federal Title IX regulations could result in the withdrawal of federal funds, including monies earmarked for student loans. In contrast, non-compliance to SB 212 creates a criminal offense for university employees who fail to report possible sexual misconduct.
Wesley Johnson, a San Antonio attorney, told the Dallas Observer that one possible problem with SB 212 is that it creates a different standard for sexual harassment at the higher education level than it does for K-12. Texas’ new law only applies to colleges and universities and creates a situation where a certain behavior might not be considered sexual harassment in high school, but if it took place on a college campus, it would.
SB 212 went into effect Sept. 1, and criminal sanctions go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.