A regular survey of Louisiana college students about sexual assault on campus will be conducted less often in a bid to boost paltry participation in the currently annual questionnaire.
Only about 5% of students at Louisiana public colleges and universities respond to the anonymous annual surveys, according to lawmakers. The survey will now be conducted once every three years, assuming Gov. John Bel Edwards signs off on the change.
State higher education officials estimated that surveying students less frequently about the climate of sexual assaults on campus could boost participation to nearly 40% of students, according to state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, who handled the proposal on the Senate floor Saturday.
The legislation to implement the change — House Bill 294 by Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Barbara Carpenter — passed the Senate 24-to-9 on Saturday. It’d sailed through the House 82-to-0 last month.
The Louisiana Legislature needed to approve the change because the survey is mandated by state law.
Saturday’s vote came after senators argued over whether to launch a separate survey of high school students about sex education and behavior, a longstanding proposal that’s been repeatedly rejected over the years by conservative Louisiana lawmakers who’ve also required sex education in public schools to heavily stress abstinence.
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, tried to tack language setting up the high school sex survey onto the bill altering the frequency of the college sexual assault questionnaire.
Claitor and Morrell argued that surveying high schoolers would allow educators to address high-risk behaviors, counter potentially dangerous misinformation about sex and, in Claitor’s words, “reduce chronic conditions and health risk.”
Morrell noted the high rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers in Louisiana compared to other states.
But other lawmakers — including Sens. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, and Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell — expressed concerns about asking teenagers about sex and whether apprehensive parents would receive forms allowing them to keep their kids from taking the survey.
The questions could be “pretty graphic,” said Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, and the high school students answering “could be 14-year-olds.”
Claitor, sensing slim chances of approval, dropped his proposal for a high school sex education survey without a vote.