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Proposed federal rules for sexual assault claims concern some state lawmakers

New federal rules for how schools investigate rape claims could lead to tough questions from state lawmakers.

They’re concerned reports of campus rapes will drop if the rules go into effect.

Proposed Title IX changes by federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may impact a 2016 state law sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams and House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst. That law expanded universities’ obligations to respond to campus sexual assault complaints.

The federal overhaul narrows the definition of sexual harassment and mitigates schools’ legal liability. They would only have to investigate on-campus incidents and complaints made to certain school officials.

Supporters of the federal changes say they protect due process for the accused. But Longhurst said the current state law already provides a fair process for both parties.

“If it gives more rights to the accused as opposed to the victim, I will be having hearings and I will be talking to universities and I will be asking them how they’re going to address it,” she said.

Longhurst adds another big concern is requiring universities to hold a live hearing and allowing cross examinations. The accused would not be allowed to ask about the accuser’s sexual history.

“So they can take a student and the accuser can go and hire you know a top-of-the line lawyer to come in and drill this person and make them a victim all over again. I fundamentally have a problem with that.”

Victims advocates say it raises issues of equity of student representation and the possibility of hearings becoming mini-trials.

The regulation is open for a 60-day comment period.

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