Campus sexual assault has been a focus of debate in recent years, with California passing its ground-breaking ‘Yes Means Yes’ affirmative consent law in 2015. But these policy changes have triggered a round of lawsuits by accused students, saying their due process rights were violated.
In 2017, Democrat Senators Kevin de Leon and Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced SB 169, which would have codified federal Title IX guidelines into state law. Citing its numerous due process problems, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, and vowed to set up a working group to make recommendations for future legislation. Last November, the working group issued a series of common-sense recommendations that were designed to strike the balance between the needs of complainants and the rights of the accused.
During this time period, numerous lawsuits have been filed by college students expelled based on sexual assault allegations. To date, state and federal courts at both the trial and appeals levels have handed down 27 decisions ruling against California colleges and universities for a variety of due process, Title IX, and similar contractual violations.
Snubbing the recommendations of Gov. Brown’s working group and the decisions of numerous judges, Sen. Jackson recently introduced Education: Sex Equity bill.
SB 493 contains a number of controversial provisions, such as training campus Title IX staff in “trauma-informed” methods; banning the use of direct cross-examination; and allowing the use of “single-investigator” investigations in which the same person serves judge, jury, and executioner.
In response, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) has issued a Statement of Opposition that notes the following:
- The bill’s endorsement of trauma-informed methods “run afoul of various recommendations from the working group and California court decisions.”
- The bill directly contradicts the need for direct cross-examination, as was highlighted in three California judicial decisions: Doe v. Regents of the University of California; Doe v. Claremont McKenna College; and Doe v. Kegan Allee (University of Southern California)
- SB 493’s promotion of the single-investigator model ignores the recommendation of Gov. Brown’s working group, which explained, “The ‘single-investigator model,’ lacking separation between investigator and adjudicator(s), rarely meets due process requirements.”
Last Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 493. In her introductory remarks, Sen. Jackson sought to neutralize the expected testimony of bill opponents, saying in effect, “They will tell you that we did not pay attention to the expert panel Gov. Brown put together and we didn’t take into account their recommendations. I can tell you, that is a lie, we did just that.”
Hearing attendees also reported that proponents of the bill were allowed to speak for up to 10 minutes. But citizens who sought to testify against the bill were limited to only four minutes, or told they could only state their names. Sen. Jackson reportedly treated these witnesses in a rude and condescending manner.
SAVE notes that procedures that are open, fair, and respectful should be the hallmark of both campus adjudications and the legislative development process. For these reasons, SAVE urges California legislators to oppose SB 493.