Colleges to Get a Reprieve From Additional Campus-Safety Requirements

September 29, 2008

Washington — Under pressure from college lobbyists, the U.S. Senate has stripped provisions from a school-safety bill that would have required colleges to conduct annual “campus safety assessments” and develop emergency-response plans. The revised bill, which the Senate is expected to vote on before adjourning later this week, would apply only to elementary and secondary schools. If it passes, it would go back to the U.S. House of Representatives for a final vote.

Supporters of the original bill, HR 2352, including its sponsor, Rep. Steven R. Rothman, a Democrat of New Jersey, argued that including colleges would have ensured that they met minimum requirements for the safety of their students. But college lobbyists protested that the measure would overlap with campus-safety provisions in recently enacted legislation to renew the Higher Education Act. Among other things, that law requires colleges to develop plans to notify students “immediately” in the event of an emergency.

“It’s astonishing that the Congress would attempt to impose additional regulations on colleges only two months after the ink dried on the Higher Education Opportunity Act,” Becky Timmons, assistant vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education, said after the House passed its bill.

Lobbyists asked lawmakers to remove the section of the bill applying to colleges, and late last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat of California, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, S 1217, agreed to do so.

Meanwhile, the House has passed a pair of bills that would create a National Center for Campus Public Safety and authorize grants to colleges to install sprinkler systems and other fire-suppression technologies. It is unclear if the Senate will take up those measures before adjourning. —Kelly Field