LSU scandal prompts lawmakers to back new rules for campuses

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers unanimously voted Tuesday to toughen the rules for how colleges must respond to allegations of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct. But the House and Senate have to agree on a final approach before a bill can reach the governor’s desk.

The two chambers are expected to decide which legislation they’ll send to Gov. John Bel Edwards in the remaining nine days of the session.

The measures by Republican Sen. Beth Mizell and Democrat Rep. Aimee Freeman are largely identical, stemming from an independent report that detailed years of widespread mishandling of sexual misconduct claims at Louisiana State University.

“This bill is for the students,” Freeman said.

The proposals aim to close loopholes found in previous college campus safety laws passed in recent years. They would require colleges to fire employees who don’t report sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse allegations covered under federal Title IX laws or who make reports that are knowingly false.

The measures would add new training requirements and detail when employees must report complaints or incidents they witness. They would ban retaliation against people who report allegations and limit their liability from lawsuits. And they would require detailed reports published online from campuses about how they handle Title IX claims.

LSU hired independent law firm Husch Blackwell to review its response to Title IX complaints after reporting by USA Today scrutinized the university’s handling of sexual assault cases implicating two former football players. The report was scathing, outlining multiple examples in which the university ignored and dismissed student allegations of rape, domestic violence and assault.

Louisiana’s female lawmakers held hours of hearings to go through the report and hear from students and others who said their abuse went unaddressed by university officials, particularly in LSU’s athletic department. The bills grew out of those hearings.

LSU officials say they are following all the Husch Blackwell recommendations for improvement and creating a new office to handle Title IX complaints. Still, lawmakers bristled about LSU’s decision to briefly suspend two employees rather than fire anyone implicated in years of botched responses to misconduct allegations.

Former football coach Les Miles was pushed out of his coaching job at Kansas after the report detailed allegations of inappropriate behavior with students during his tenure at LSU, which Miles denies. Former LSU system President F. King Alexander resigned from his job leading Oregon State because of his role in the mishandling of sexual misconduct cases at LSU.

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The bills are filed as Senate Bills 230 and House Bill 409.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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