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Highlights from in and around the world of Texas politics

April 5, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers are pushing for tougher sexual assault reporting requirements on college campuses in response to the ongoing investigations into Baylor University’s handling of sexual assault allegations involving its football program.

The Legislature convenes every other year and is in session for the first time since the Baylor scandal blew up and led to the firing last year of its successful football coach, Art Briles, and the resignation of its president, Ken Starr.

The nation’s largest Baptist university is facing federal lawsuits from more than a dozen women who contend that school officials ignored or suppressed their sexual assault claims and fostered a culture of rape within the football program.

Lawmakers have reacted by proposing bills that would require school employees and student leaders to immediately relay reports of assaults to the school’s investigations office or face possible criminal charges or expulsion, bar schools from using student conduct code violations to intimidate victims and witnesses, and make it easier to report assaults anonymously and online.

“It’s time we changed the culture on college campuses,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman a former prosecutor and judge from Houston. “Texas must lead the way on this issue.”

Last month, the University of Texas released the results of a student survey that found that nearly 15 percent of female undergraduates at the 50,000-student campus said they had been raped. Twenty-eight percent said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual touching.

But it’s the ongoing scandal at Baylor, including the accusations of a cover-up, that initially pushed lawmakers to act.

“We have cultural problem on a lot of campuses, but there’s no question watching what was coming out of Baylor highlighted this for me,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, a Baylor graduate who maintains deep ties to the school.

“I love Baylor University, a lot. But I have been extra disappointed and very sad about all that has gone on, and frankly, in the efforts that Baylor has made, or not made, to restore confidence,” he said.



Texas is considering asking drivers to help it clear its huge backlog of untested rape kits, a novel approach that has been well received by cost-conscious Republican lawmakers and one that other states might consider.

The Republican-controlled Texas House on Wednesday gave tentative approval to the bill, which would ask drivers renewing their licenses to donate $1 or more to help test the thousands of rape kits awaiting analysis. It would still need the state Senate’s approval and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature to become law, but it hasn’t encountered any resistance thus far.

Victim rights groups say it appears to be unprecedented, though New Mexico may enact a law this week that would allow people to donate part of their tax returns to help clear its backlog.

Budget officials estimate that the Texas bill would raise about $1 million in donations. Its sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Victoria Neave, described it as something of an imperfect solution at a time when Republican-controlled Legislature is trying to cut billions of dollars in spending amid a budget crunch.

“Frankly, I believe that our state should be fully funding this,” Neave said. “But I wanted to come up with a creative solution to generate revenue to help end the backlog.”



Another all-night debate over a new Texas budget is likely to begin in the House on Thursday. The Senate is also back in.



“How did you hatch this idea? ...I would like to peck at it a little bit.” Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, on a Senate bill that bar cities from placing certain limits on owning chickens in residential areas.

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