House wants colleges to make sex offenders on campus public

Bill would also require schools to report more fire-safety information

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Schools with information regarding registered sex offenders present on their campuses will be required to make that information available to students if the Senate approves a bill passed unanimously by the House in July.

If the federal bill becomes law, beginning in 2001 campus police departments will have to make available the same kind of sex offender registry information as local law enforcement would. Schools will be required to provide a written policy assuring that they will acknowledge the registered sex offenders on campus as well as stating what information will be available, how students and faculty can access it and when the information will be updated.

Although critics of the bill fear that colleges would have difficulty implementing such a law, advocates such as Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, say that is not the case.

"There's been some misunderstanding about what it would do," Carter said. "Because lobbyists don't want another provision for reporting, they're trying to make it seem like it's a lot of work."

Carter said the process for dissemination of the information is actually a simple one in which the school can distribute the information to students in the same format as it is distributed to them by the states.

"I want to make it clear that where this information is made available to them by the state, then they have to make that information available to the students," Carter said.

In addition to the requirement that information about sex offenders employed by or enrolled at the school be included in its annual security disclosures, stipulations that schools report more fire safety information, publish policies regarding missing students and clarify the categorization of residence hall crimes are also included among the provisions of HR 4504, an amendment to the Higher Education Act.

The measure, which is now before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for consideration, also requires campuses to reveal information regarding their fire-safety equipment and regulations and provide statistics on incidents of fires and false alarms as well as the deaths, injuries and damages caused by those incidents.

Additionally, universities would have to submit a report by July 2002 analyzing their fire safety systems and standards with recommendations for bringing all buildings that fall below those standards into compliance.

A missing students portion of the bill would ensure that universities provide a policy for notification to parents and law enforcement regarding missing students.

HR 4504 also seeks to reconfigure the geographic breakdown of campus crime statistics so that residence hall crimes are reported in only one category, not two, as is the case with the current method of calculation.

Carter said crimes committed in residence halls are now reported twice, in both the general campus category and on-campus housing column. He said this manner of reporting can lead to confusion about where crimes are being committed.

"We sought a minor technical change that would make each of the four geographic columns mutually exclusive," Carter said. "We believe that retains the benefit of students knowing where the crimes are happening but makes it much more clear."

Fall 2000, reports