sexual assault hearing

The Senate Education Committee advanced bills Thursday, May 23, 2019, related to suicide prevention, students linked to violent threats and collegiate sexual assault surveys.

The Louisiana Senate Education Committee advanced bills Thursday that would address concerns about sexual assaults in public colleges and universities, add new measures to school suicide prevention programs, and report students linked to violent threats.

House Bill 294 sponsored by Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, would improve current standards for administering anonymous sexual assault surveys at Louisiana’s public colleges and universities. Under Carpenter’s proposal, postsecondary institutions would issue the survey every three years in order to garner more respondents.

This would give administrators more time to prepare the survey, reach out to students for responses and analyze the results.

“When the state responses are in the single digits, that’s not telling us a lot about our communities,” said Jennie Stewart, who is the Title IX campus coordinator at Louisiana State University. “It’s not really statistically reliable and valid.”

“We want it to be a meaningful exercise in making our community a better place,” Stewart said, recognizing the need to improve the current survey.

Present law mandates that if funds are available, public colleges distribute an annual anonymous sexual assault survey to students.

Each survey costs the state about $60,000 a year to administer and analyze the results, Stewart said.

A bill that would aim to prevent youth suicide also advanced in the Senate committee. Sponsored by Rep. Stuart Moss, R-Sulphur, the proposal would add to existing suicide prevention programs in public schools.

“The suicide rate in Louisiana has gone up quite a bit over the last few years,” said Leigh Ann Raab, the Louisiana and Mississippi area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP. “On average, we lose about one young Louisianian a week,” she added.

The proposal would require schools that issue student identification cards to print national and local suicide prevention text lines on them. In addition, the bill would provide guidelines for suicide prevention training for school employees.

The AFSP hopes to reduce the national suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025, “and it’s by doing little things like this, state by state by state, that we can help make that goal happen,” Raab said.

The bill would also designate schools with suicide prevention programs a “Suicide Prevention Certified School,” and a list of participating schools would be available on the Louisiana Department of Education’s website.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 in Louisiana, and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 34, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency.

The committee also advanced House Bill 193 by Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, which would add to an existing law that requires students who pose a “credible and imminent” safety threat to be reported to law enforcement.

The law, enacted in 2018, mandates that public school employees report serious threats of violence by students to school administrators, who then inform law enforcement.

Bacala said students should only be reported to law enforcement in cases of extreme violent threats. Bacala’s proposal would further define “credible and imminent” to prevent overreporting.

The committee also advanced House Bill 517 by Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, that would require public schools to develop a hardship policy for students and families unable to pay fees charged by the school.

Smith’s proposal would also require schools to publish information on their websites and evaluate their inventory of school supplies before asking students to bring in additional supplies.

House members already passed all bills, and the proposed legislation now moves to the Senate floor for final passage.