Furious with LSU’s sexual misconduct scandal, Louisiana lawmakers are heading into the upcoming legislative session with hopes of fixing some of the glaring problems around universities’ reporting of abuse, with at least three bills already in the hopper that would tighten oversight and reporting requirements on public college campuses.

The legislation comes as women lawmakers continue to hold hearings to probe LSU’s systemic failures in addressing sexual harassment and abuse. A third hearing on the issue is slated for next week, and a host of LSU officials at the center of the scandal, including head football coach Ed Orgeron, have been asked to testify.

At the same time, legislators have been trying to use the legislative process to address the problems exposed since the scandal came to light. Louisiana already has laws on the books to mandate reporting of sexual misconduct and require schools to take concrete action to ensure it is appropriately addressed. But the investigation into LSU by the Husch Blackwell law firm discovered the university failed to follow federal Title IX reporting requirements, as well as the state laws around reporting misconduct.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is backing at least one of the bills, by Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, which would add teeth to the requirements that employees of colleges and universities report misconduct and abuse allegations, creating a chain of accountability all the way to the board that oversees the school.

Importantly, the law would also force institutions like LSU to fire any employee who fails to comply with reporting sexual misconduct and other allegations of abuse. That component of the bill addresses one of the key complaints lawmakers and others have of LSU: that university officials didn’t fire anyone in the wake of the scandal.

“I’ve heard the students; I heard the stories of survivors of horrible abuse,” Freeman said. “I know there are more people out there, and to me it’s time to fix this broken system and ensure these predators have real accountability so the survivors are getting the justice they need.”

LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard said in a statement, "We support any efforts to protect Louisiana students from sexual assault and look forward to further discussion with the legislature and governor’s office as we proceed through session.”

Freeman said the existing laws have been “totally ignored” by universities like LSU, and that her legislation would close the loopholes. The bill would also require online reporting of crimes on campuses and require members of university boards to undergo training for handling sexual misconduct allegations, among other things.

When J.P. Morrell, then a state senator, brought a bill in 2015 to require colleges and universities to follow a series of new procedures around sexual harassment and assault, he said there was little fanfare.

This year, the issue is a Topic A at the State Capitol.

“Six years ago when I filed (the bill) I was by myself,” Morrell said. “Me and Helena (Moreno). The fact that everyone is engaged on the issue and everyone’s taking it seriously -- that’s a great thing.”

Morrell and Moreno, a former state representative who now serves on the New Orleans City Council, have spent weeks working with Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, and Senate President Pro Tem Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, to work on legislation to update the 2015 law.

That law required colleges and universities to establish partnerships with law enforcement to make sure problems like sexual assault allegations made off-campus against a student are disclosed to universities. It also directed schools to establish best practices for reporting sexual abuse, including the use of confidential advisors, posting information on the website and conducting training, among other things.

But the Husch Blackwell report found LSU did not have a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement, a requirement of the act, among other shortcomings.

In a striking moment at the first legislative hearing about LSU’s scandal, held last month, LSU’s interim president Tom Galligan told lawmakers the university had drafted such a document along with Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College, but that law enforcement had only “verbally agreed to it.” That drew incredulous responses from the lawmakers on the committee.

“That’s insulting on so many levels,” Mizell said.

Winston DeCuir, the school’s attorney, said the memorandum had been drafted in 2019, four years after the act requiring it was signed. The act did specify universities couldn’t be held responsible if law enforcement refused to play ball.

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The Husch Blackwell report found several other ways LSU was running afoul of the law. Investigators said that it was unclear if LSU had the uniform policies spelled out by the law; that it wasn’t clear who the school’s confidential advisors are; and that they couldn’t find a campus security or inter-campus transfer policy, both of which are required.

Morrell said his legislation in 2015 only dealt with misconduct between students. One of the new bills will address administrators as well, he said, addressing incidents like the allegations against Les Miles, who as head football coach of LSU was accused of sexual misconduct.

The bill, which Mizell is carrying, tightens up requirements that colleges establish memoranda of understanding with law enforcement to track off-campus sexual assault by students. It also closes what Morrell sees as a “big loophole” that allows students to transfer to another university with a clean record even after being accused of sexual assault, as long as an investigation hadn’t already begun. Like Freeman’s bill, it also requires universities to fire employees who fail to report Title IX violations.

“It’s frustrating that the Legislature has to legislate common sense,” Morrell said. “A lot of what (Mizell) is doing in her bill with (Davis) is they’re putting all their common sense...in writing so people can’t play dumb.”

“The intent of the bill is to tighten up literally with a steel grip on the oversight that we are going to expect from these institutions,” Mizell said, adding she intends to have as many women lawmakers as possible on board. “The legislation was there, but the oversight just expected ready compliance, and we haven’t had that compliance apparently.”

Edwards, a Democrat, hosted higher education leaders from across the state on the fourth floor of the Capitol this week, where they discussed a range of topics including Title IX policies. Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, said Edwards also discussed a bill he’s pushing to mandate sexual misconduct reporting.

Jim Henderson, the president of the University of Louisiana System, said he’s “absolutely on board” with the legislation.

The governor has deferred to LSU’s leadership decisions on who should be punished, and how harshly, for the repeated failures to address sexual harassment and abuse. That sets him apart from some lawmakers, who have called for firings.

So far, LSU has only punished two people for their role in the scandal, suspending senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar for 21 days and executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry for 30 days. Segar returned to work Monday; Ballard of LSU said she is no longer a Title IX liaison.

Morgan Lamandre, the legal director for the Sexual Trauma and Awareness Response Center, said she’s hopeful that new laws governing the reporting of sexual assault will make a difference. Lamandre helped craft language in Freeman’s bill that captures a host of different types of violence, including sexual assault and domestic abuse, as “power-based violence.”

“Obviously, we want people to just do the right thing,” Lamandre said. “In the end, I don’t know if you can legislate doing the right thing. But I hope that maybe people will be more clear about the process. There was a lot of confusion in LSU’s process.”

Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, has gotten in on the sexual harassment legislation as well, filing a bill with state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, that covers many of the same bases as the other bills. It would mandate reporting of Title IX violations and penalize those who don’t report.

To ensure enforcement, Riser took aim at a golden goose for universities: the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, which gives many in-state students free tuition. If a school fails to comply more than once with the law, Riser’s bill would reduce its TOPS funding by 10%.

The bill also requires schools to publish on their websites policies and statistics outlined in the Clery Act, a federal law that requires universities to disclose campus crimes.

“As a parent or as a student or grandparent, if you’re making that decision and you see a pattern developing, you might not want to attend that university,” said Riser, who has a daughter who attended LSU.

Staff writer Andrea Gallo contributed to this story.

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