JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri House panel on Tuesday significantly dialed back legislation that backers contend is aimed at ensuring those accused of rape and sex-based discrimination in college are treated fairly.
House Judiciary Committee members stripped down the bill following pushback from universities and victims-rights advocates, who warned the measure could mean fewer victims report abuse.
The legislation deals with complaints filed under Title IX, a federal law that bans sex-based discrimination in education. The Missouri bill would apply to both public and private colleges and universities.
Republican Rep. Dean Dohrman's original proposal would have allowed people who report abuse to be sued for filing false complaints, and it also would have allowed university staffers who handle those complaints to be sued.
Committee members cut those provisions from the bill.
"The last thing we want is a victim, a complainant being afraid to come forward because they could get sued personally for bringing a complaint," said Chairman Rep. David Gregory, a St. Louis Republican who proposed the changes. "If you're going to bring a complaint in a closed, confidential situation you should not able to be sued for that."
The legislation still would allow for cross-examination of witnesses, which could mean that victims face questioning. But Gregory's amendment banned discussion of a complainant's past sexual history, a change meant to prevent rape victims from being asked irrelevant questions intended to embarrass them.
Gregory also proposed allowing the decision maker to be questioned and kicked off the case if they are biased or have a conflict of interest.
Lawmakers cut a provision that have would have allowed students who were previously disciplined to appeal their cases to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, even if that discipline occurs before the proposed policy takes effect.
The revised bill would allow either party to appeal cases to the commission, but it would only apply to cases that occur after the measure is enacted.
Two of three sitting members on that commission have ties to backers of the bill .
Commissioner Renee Slusher is married to Columbia defense attorney Chris Slusher, who previously testified in favor of the measure and told lawmakers he has represented people facing Title IX allegations. Presiding and Managing Commissioner Audrey Hanson McIntosh is married to lobbyist Richard McIntosh, who is pushing the measure.
Dohrman on Tuesday said they're "fair-minded jurists who can handle the job."
The legislation also would require that students be guaranteed the right to be represented by an attorney. It would require that colleges "refrain from using the term 'survivor' or any other term that presumes guilt" before a final decision is reached.
House Judiciary Committee members voted to advance Dohrman's scaled-back bill. A similar proposal is awaiting debate in the Senate.
As of Tuesday, records show at least 23 lobbyists were registered to represent Kingdom Principles, which is backing a group called Missouri Campus Due Process Coalition.
A spokesman for the coalition has confirmed wealthy St. Louis businessman David Steward is financially supporting the coalition. Spokesman Gregg Keller on Tuesday declined to comment further about other donors.