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Senate stalls on Title IX reform after overnight filibuster

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After what became the second overnight filibuster in a week for the Missouri Senate, Title IX reform legislation failed to advance.

The Senate finally took up the Title IX legislation — SB 259 sponsored by Republican Sen. Gary Romine — after a short evening break which resulted in nearly six hours of contentious debate on the floor before the bill was ultimately placed back on the informal calendar early Wednesday morning. The controversial legislation would drastically change how Missouri’s universities handle sexual assault and harassment cases.

Romine contended Title IX, in its current form, is problematic and in desperate need of reform. Reform proponents, too, stressed the need to protect the due process rights of an accused student in these cases.

“If there is going to be a case handled on [a college] campus, we need to make sure we have the best process in place,” Romine said, also advocating Missouri “take the lead” on this particular issue.

In affirming due process rights for all individuals, the legislation would allow cases to be heard by the three-member Administrative Hearing Commission. Students involved may have an attorney, and the cross-examination of witnesses and parties involved would be allowed during these cases, according to the bill text.

Although Sen. Bill Eigel admitted he isn’t always in agreement with Romine on education issues, the fellow Republican stressed his support for the legislation Tuesday night. He said he had a “whole folder of people” who have been denied due process rights in these sorts of cases.

Opponents of the reform legislation, on the other hand, spent significant time debating multiple facets of concern, from potential detriments to due process rights for either party to potential inconsistencies with federal guidelines.

Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed offered a bevy of amendments to the reform legislation — including one that would provide for the use of public defenders to students who might not be able to afford an attorney. Ultimately, her amendments were not successful.

Sen. Jason Holsman, also a Democrat, urged the Senate to pause its push for Title IX reform until after the Trump administration hands down its federal guidelines in order for a more uniform standard to be implemented across the board in Missouri. The Education Department unveiled proposed changes to how colleges handle Title IX complaints late last year.

“Tonight we stood and fought for victims of sexual assault on campuses. And won,” Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton, who spent time pointing out legal issues with the bill, said after the debate.

Title IX, a federal statute, says: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”