Nebraska's higher-education institutions said Tuesday they backed an amended bill by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh requiring campuses to report instances of domestic, dating and sexual violence to the Legislature.
As originally introduced by Cavanaugh, the University of Nebraska, Nebraska State College System and the Nebraska Community College Association opposed the proposal (LB534) requiring them to create and administer a campus sexual assault climate survey.
Representatives from all three public higher-education bodies said they already give students confidential climate surveys, allowing them to report instances of sexual misconduct and communicate their knowledge about reporting options and Title IX procedures anonymously.
That data is submitted to the federal government in compliance with Title IX guidelines and Clery Act reporting requirements.
Two similar bills were brought last year — one from Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, the other from Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld — though neither advanced out of the Education Committee.
Tuesday, Cavanaugh told the committee she amended LB534 to require public institutions of higher education to simply provide the information to the committee in a report every other year — not create a new survey — as well as provide information related to the training Title IX coordinators, investigators and others receive in handling instances of sexual or dating violence.
The change was amenable to NU, which cited a Supreme Court decision that says the Legislature cannot set policy for the university, as the reason it opposed the underlying bill.
Tami Strickman, the Title IX coordinator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said Cavanaugh's amended bill would simply require UNL to provide the Legislature a copy of the report it files with the federal government every year.
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There were 160 cases of reported sexual misconduct in the 2017-18 school year, Strickman said, including everything from domestic, dating and sexual violence, to stalking and rape.
UNL collects information by reported offense, including the age of those involved, as well as the location.
Bev Cummins, the vice president of student affairs and Lincoln campus director at Southeast Community College, said the amendment to Cavanaugh's bill keeps campus climate surveys anonymous, allowing students to answer questions truthfully, and giving institutions a chance to use that information to make improvements.
"They are a tool for institutional improvement, consumer education and student awareness," Cummins said.
In a back and forth with Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, Cavanaugh said she believes it's important for lawmakers to receive campus safety reports, even if the information is not shaped into policy.
"I think it's important for our young people to know their Legislature cares," she said.
Brewer said if the Legislature was going to be collecting data, he would prefer lawmakers use it to improve the campus experience for students.
Cavanaugh replied LB534 was introduced with no other agenda than to inform senators, but added that knowing the information will be shared publicly with the Legislature may spur colleges to work harder to stem instances of sexual violence.