Tenn. passes law requiring colleges to disclose some campus crime records

TENNESSEE— Gov. Phil Bredesen signed a law March 12 that amends the TennesseeOpen Records Act to require state public colleges and universities to disclosecertain campus crime information, signaling a victory for lawmakers who werefoiled in their effort to achieve the same results from legislation enacted lastyear.State Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and state Rep. Harry Brooks,R-Knoxville, co-sponsored the bill, which mandates disclosure of three types ofstudent disciplinary records. The first is the final results of disciplinaryactions where a student is found responsible for a violent crime or nonforciblesex offense. The second is information about a student who is a registered sexoffender. Information in those two categories is available to the public and tovictims under the law. The final category of information relates to violationsof any law or rule governing the use or possession of alcohol or drugs by astudent under the age of 21. However, such information will be disclosed only tothe student’s parent or legal guardian.The law will take effect July1.Sen. Burchett sponsored a similar bill in the Tennessee General Assembly in2003, which also passed and was signed by Gov. Bredesen. However, the stateattorney general later issued an advisory opinion that the language of the billallowed disclosure, but did not require it, as Burchett hadintended.Burchett subsequently introduced Senate Bill 2098 on Jan. 13with new language requiring disclosure.”The bill is importantbecause we have students who are committing serious crimes and the bureaucratsat these universities try to keep it quiet to keep attendance up,”Burchett said of the latest bill.Schools still must comply with theFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that penalizes schoolsfor releasing student records without authorization. FERPA was amended in 1998to allow disclosure of the types of records described above. However, unlike thenew Tennessee law, FERPA does not require disclosure.Journalists andcampus crime disclosure advocates hailed the legislation as a step in the rightdirection. They hope the law will lead to greater openness and safety atTennessee college and university campuses.Carolyn S. Carlson, vicechairwoman of the Society of Professional Journalist’s subcommittee oncampus crime, approves of the step Tennessee has taken and hopes that otherstates will follow in its path.”I think all states should make itclear that their open-records laws require public schools to disclose the finaldisciplinary results of sex crimes and other crimes of violence,” shesaid.

View the text of Senate Bill 2098.

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