UPDATE: The bill has passed the House overwhelmingly on Wednesday. It will now move to the Senate for debate.
The numbers are rising when it comes to sexual assault on the campuses of colleges, junior colleges and universities. Three bills are sitting in the House that would create a concensus policy among all Mississippi institutes of higher learning.
The bills come from Rep. Angela Cockerham (D) who tried before in 2017 to make a change in how schools handle sexual assault on campus.
“We think this is an issue that needs to be addressed, so that is what we are trying to do,” said Cockerham. “The number of sexual assaults on campus was increasing and I was getting phone calls from concerned parents and students who were on both side of the issue; the victims and the accused.”
She has worked with the IHL and other lawmakers to author two new bills (HB1437, HB1438), this year. She also submitted the bill she wrote last year that passed through the house but did not make it to the Senate Floor (HB1436).
HB1437 was authored by IHL after review of Cockerham’s original bill submitted in 2017. However, she felt a few things were left off. Cockerham and iHL worked toward another rewrite that produces HB 1438 where it was clarified that even if a victim had previously had sexual contact with the now accused, it did not warrant consent at the time of the assault.
Cockerham said the goal of the bills is to create a uniform policy for all IHL schools to follow when it comes to assault, domestic violence, and things of that nature on campus. The bill would require counselors to take at least 40 hours of training in order to better assist the victims of attacks. While Cockerham was encouraged that campuses are taking initiative to educate their students on the subject, there needs to be more uniformity.
“I started looking at IHL websites for universities and some had one things and others had another. Everything was different, and the information was not consistent,” said Cockerham.
On Friday, just days before general bill committee deadline, HB1438 was approved in Judiciary B Committee. Cockerham said the bill was comprised of a collaboration between herself and tons of input from the IHL. A few amendments were added by the IHL and another proposed by Rep. Andy Gipson to exclude private universities and colleges.