Lawmakers push for changes to how Missouri colleges handle sexual assault cases

KANSAS CITY, Mo. --There are two bills in the Missouri legislature that, if passed, would drastically change how colleges and universities in the state handle allegations of sexual harassment or assault.

State Sen. Gary Romine is sponsoring one of the bills that would alter how schools conduct investigations into Title IX violations.

Signed into federal law in 1972, Title IX was enacted to ensure both genders are equally represented in things like college athletics. But in recent years, the federal guidelines have expanded into the realm of investigating and disciplining allegations of sexual misconduct.

The proceedings are confidential and, in some cases, the student accused of wrongdoing is suspended, or even expelled, only to later be cleared.

The bills being debated in Jefferson City would afford the accused students of something closer to the presumption of innocence, or due process, in the criminal system.

"We want to make sure that the student is properly notified of their rights, properly notified of the process and how it could transpire and know that they have the right of an appeal," Romine said.

On top of an appeal, if it becomes law, it would mean if an accused student is later cleared of wrongdoing, they could sue the college or university -- and the accuser who filed the complaint.

Some college students FOX4 spoke with said that goes too far.

"A lot of people are not OK with that down at Springfield," Missouri State student Clayton Breshears said. "There’s a lot of people in the Title IX office that are worried the government is over-infringing on their rights and that a lot of women aren’t going to be fairly treated."

"Usually the men do have the power in those situations," UMKC student Emma Stoltz said. "So if there’s any sort of change, like giving more power to them, it would be worse for girls and students that go to any colleges within Missouri."

But lawmakers pushing for the Title IX changes argue they’re simply fighting for an even playing field when it comes to discipline on Missouri’s college campuses.

"We’re coming to the table with an open mind of what we should end up with Title IX to make sure it’s in the best interest of our students," Romine said.

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