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2 members married to backers of bill to strengthen panel

By SUMMER BALLENTINEMarch 7, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two members of a Missouri commission that would gain authority to review sex-based discrimination complaints in higher education have ties to backers of the legislative change.

At issue is a bill moving through the Missouri Legislature that would give the five-member Administrative Hearing Commission the authority to review Title IX cases. Those cases deal with sexual assault, harassment and other sex-based discrimination in colleges and universities.

Commissioner Renee Slusher is married to Columbia defense attorney Chris Slusher, who testified in favor of the measure during a Tuesday legislative hearing 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.

A request from The Associated Press for comment from the commissioners was directed to an Office of Administration spokeswoman, who didn’t immediately comment Thursday. Chris Slusher also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Richard McIntosh said his wife could simply step back from cases if any were impacted by his work. He also said laws aren’t passed based on “who’s currently in a position (or) who’s not in a position.”

“The law will exist long after Richard McIntosh is no longer lobbying and Audrey McIntosh is no longer an administrative law judge,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether Audrey was there or not.”

Measures pending in the House and Senate would enact additional rights to people accused sex-based discrimination, such as sexual harassment or assault. The legislation includes the option to appeal a university decision or directly bring a claim to the Administrative Hearing Commission.

The legislation also would require that students be guaranteed the right to be represented by an attorney and either cross-examine witnesses “or present questions for the purpose of cross-examination.”

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Dean Dohrman, told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that his bill would “help bring back the basic tenet of due process.”

Other provisions in the bill include ensuring that students’ have the right to “reject any decision maker who has a bias or conflict of interest or who is a friend of any witness through any interaction, including any online interaction.”

The bill requires that colleges “refrain from using the term ‘survivor’ or any other term that presumes guilt” before a finding of guilt. University staffers charged with making formal decisions on complaints would be required to sign an affidavit listing prejudicial beliefs or “previous experiences that would provide actual or perceived bias.”

Some committee members raised concerns about whether the provisions could have a chilling effect and dissuade victims from coming forward.

But Chris Slusher told committee members that fairness throughout the process is necessary.

“If you deny someone the ability to defend themselves so fundamentally to reach a policy goal or to avoid the problem of maybe creating more reluctance of people to report these things, then I think that’s something that our system has to live with,” Slusher said.

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