Proposed legislation would alter sexual assault policies across California

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Flanked by about 20 students from colleges across the state, three Sacramento lawmakers announced legislation Monday that would tighten sexual assault policies at all California colleges, both public and private, to make them more “victim-centered.”

The bill, SB 967, would place a more stringent burden on the accused to prove that he or she received affirmative consent rather than on the accuser to prove that he or she said “no” to a given sexual act. It would also prohibit intoxication to be used as a defense for accused perpetrators of sexual crimes.

The co-authors of the bill — two state senators and an Assembly member, all of whom are Democrats — worked alongside the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault to write the legislation. One of the authors, Kevin de Leon, a state senator whose district encompasses the city of Los Angeles, spoke at a Monday press conference in Sacramento about “nonuniform” policies and recent “scandals” that have rocked universities such as UC Berkeley and Occidental College, the latter of which falls in De Leon’s district.

Hannah-Beth Jackson, another author of the bill and a state senator whose district includes portions of Santa Barbara County, said sexual assault has been trivialized on college campuses.

“It seems sexual assault is treated as an inevitable part of the college experience,” Jackson said at the press conference. “Instead of fighting to change it, schools simply overlook it.”

The bill’s authors aim to reverse this sentiment through clauses such as the “preponderance of evidence standard,” which the University of California policy currently contains. The legislation also contains a clause that details how consent cannot be given if an individual is asleep, incapacitated or unable to communicate.

In the coming months, college administrators will give feedback on the bill, which will undergo committee review before lawmakers vote on it. Gov. Jerry Brown could sign the bill as early as September, meaning it could become law as early as January, said Claire Conlon, press secretary for De Leon.

UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek, who was present at the press conference, said though “multifaceted sectors of activism” involving students and lawmakers will ultimately make progress on issues surrounding college sexual assault, it is “too soon to tell what the legislation will accomplish.”

The California state auditor’s office is currently investigating how UC Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego State University and Chico State University handle cases of sexual assault and harassment, with results slated for release in June, two months later than the office had originally projected. At the federal level, President Barack Obama announced last month the creation of a White House task force to address sexual assault on college campuses.

Unrelated to the state audit, the University of California is finalizing a new sexual harassment and violence policy, to be completed in the coming weeks.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a state bill to tighten sexual assault policies at California universities could become law as soon as September if Gov. Jerry Brown were to sign it. In fact, the bill would not become law until January, even if Brown signs it in September.