Today a vote is scheduled on the house floor for a controversial piece of legislation that would restrict the authority of universities to investigate alleged sexual assault on campuses across Georgia. House Bill 51 was introduced by state Rep. Earl Ehrhart and would require university officials to notify law enforcement if a felony, such as rape, has occurred with or without the consent of the victim.
Ehrhart is the longest serving Republican in the Georgia House. He represents District 36, which includes sections of Northwest Cobb County.
Ehrhart is concerned about the lack of legal protection for those accused of sexual assault. He told the Atlanta Journal- Constitution that he wants to treat sexual assault cases seriously without sacrificing due process. Ehrhart also said that he plans to request additional funding for counseling and other services for campus sexual assault victims.
Under the proposed legislation, law enforcement agencies will determine whether or not the alleged criminal offense should be investigated and if any findings should be reported to the appropriate prosecutor’s office.
No post-secondary institution could conduct its own investigation unless it is done by a campus law enforcement agency staffed by law enforcement officers who are certified peace officers by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
School officials would be unable to take disciplinary action against a student accused of sexual assault unless the student pleads no contest to the charges or if the student is convicted.
The proposed bill has sparked a great deal of controversy. The Atlanta Women for Equality spoke out against House Bill 51, claiming that it is unconstitutional.
The group is dedicated to providing free legal advocacy for low-income women and girls facing sexual discrimination in the workplace or at school. The Atlanta Women for Equality also aim to expand educational and economic opportunities for women and girls.
“Sadly, if passed, the bill would deter victim-survivors from telling the truth about sexual violence, prevent schools from fulfilling their legal obligations to provide safe, non-sexually-hostile educational environments, and, in effect, force Georgia institutions to forfeit federal funding,” the Atlanta Women for Equality told WXIA in a statement.
University students are also concerned about House Bill 51. The Students Against House Bill 51 expressed their discontent with the bill on its Facebook page. The group also organized a protest during the floor session scheduled for March 1.
“We will not be silenced,” the Students Against House Bill 51 said in a statement. “We will not be excluded from this conversation.”