The Legislature produces its own version of “The Walking Dead,” legislation that appears lifeless yet manages to climb out of its coffin amid horrifying screams, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
The resurrected bill doesn’t always look so good. But limping and ragged, it’s still on the field. That’s what happened in the House late Tuesday with the campus rape bill that a Senate committee appeared to have killed last week.
House Bill 51 mandates more due process rights to the accused while also drastically limiting the ability of the state’s public colleges to investigate and punish allegations of rape. Sponsored by the former House Rules chair but still influential state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, the bill was criticized as an over correction by those who work with sexual assault victims, only a small percentage of whom ever report what happened to them.
Unlike the House, which belittled the concern of sexual assault survivors that the bill would cause even fewer victims to come forward, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided the issue was too complex and the implications too unclear to act. The committee unanimously voted to table the bill, and Ehrhart promised to work with them to improve the bill.
Instead, the House Rules Committee seized on Senate Bill 71 — legislation dealing with bankruptcies and health savings accounts — and gutted it Tuesday. Then, House members swapped in the language of the moribund HB 51.
And, by the way, the sponsor of the stripped-down Senate Bill 71 is Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that tabled Ehrhart’s bill.
The hijacked Senate bill arrived on the House floor Tuesday night where two Democratic representatives spoke out against it and the blatant political machinations.
Pleading with his House colleagues to repudiate the “raw power play,” state Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, said, “Are we going to push this through? I would humbly ask you to please today let’s follow the lead from the Senate across the hall. Listen to the pleas of sexual assault survivors and vote this bill down.”
The House didn’t oblige, voting for the revived bill 102 to 56, along party lines.
Senate Bill 71 must go back to the Senate for another vote, which will be a crunch given the session ends Thursday.