TRENTON - The Assembly has passed legislation that could result in New Jersey colleges and universities facing fines of up to $50,000 for not properly investigating sexual-assault allegations.
Lawmakers passed the measure Monday by 70-3, with three abstentions. It would authorize the attorney general to impose fines on institutions of higher education if they do not adequately investigate allegations.
Lawmakers say the legislation comes in response to the federal disclosure that 55 colleges and universities were under investigation for potential mishandling of sexual assault complaints.
"The days of looking the other way when it comes to sexual assault are over," Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
Under the legislation, the attorney general would determine the criteria that colleges and universities would have to meet.
Lawmakers say victims deserve to know that schools are doing what they can to minimize trauma.
"The physical and mental scarring from sexual assault can impact a victim for the rest of their life, especially if the incident is not processed properly through the appropriate legal channels," Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D., Bergen) said in a statement.
The New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities said it supports the intentions behind the bills but raised some concerns about the measure, specifically that such legislation could affect victims' expectations of confidentiality, said the group's spokesman, Paul Shelly.
The bill also calls for colleges and universities to publicly communicate their policies and procedures on reporting sexual assaults at the beginning of each academic year.
Federal law already requires colleges and universities to report crime on campus under the Clery Act, and the Campus Save Act, passed in 2013, calls for reporting domestic violence and sexual assault.