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Opinion: Three bills in Legislature endanger Georgia's colleges and universities

UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously late Thursday to table HB 51, the campus rape bill referenced in this essay.

In this column, state Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, says three bills moving through the Legislature toward passage threaten our higher education system, quality and reputation and don't help or serve students.

By David Dreyer

Georgia's recipe for success is not a secret. Our prosperity is fueled by our infrastructure, a business-friendly climate, and a history of inclusion and civil rights.

Our colleges and universities are arguably the most important driver of economic growth in Georgia, attracting top talent from around the world, drawing leading businesses to Georgia, and fostering cutting-edge research.

As a father and state representative, preserving our world-class higher education system for all Georgia students is one of my top priorities. I want our children to choose Georgia both for college and for their careers.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly is advancing three bills that will severely damage our universities: Campus CarryHouse Bill 51, and House Bill 37.

Campus Carry would permit weapons licensees 21 and over to carry concealed firearms on college campuses. This is well beyond Second Amendment protections. Both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the drafter and political philosopher behind the Bill of Rights, prohibited firearms at the University of Virginia. Further, the University of Georgia was established in 1776 and has not found the need to permit students to carry firearms on campus since that time.

Every campus police department that has weighed in on Campus Carry has said that allowing firearms on campus will make our colleges and universities more dangerous and will drastically increase security costs on campuses, costs which will have to be passed onto students in the form of increased fees and tuition. Finally, Campus Carry will hamstring our ability to attract top-tier faculty and students to Georgia.

The second bill, House Bill 51, would drastically limit the tools available to colleges and universities to protect students from dangerous sexual predators on campuses and discourage victims of sexual assault from reporting an assault.

The purported justification for this radical change in how campuses address allegations of sexual assault is the misplaced belief that students accused of sexual assault do not receive sufficient due process. However, the facts show that less than 1% of all sexual assaults result in incarceration, that a disproportionate number of on-campus rapes are committed by students who know one another, and that a campus process is necessary to protect sexual assault survivors.

​The third harmful bill, House Bill 37, places more than 12,000 HOPE and Zell Miller private school scholarships in jeopardy. House Bill 37 would strip all state funding, including to students, from any campus that adopts a “sanctuary policy,” but the bill never defines what constitutes a sanctuary policy, leaving all students at risk. Even the proponents of this bill admit that no Georgia colleges or universities are violating federal immigration policy, making this bill unnecessary. Rather, our General Assembly is promoting an anti-immigrant sentiment and sending a message to top global students that they are not welcome here, which stymies our workforce development efforts.

Instead of harming our colleges, we should focus on supporting our colleges with initiatives like need-based HOPE scholarships and creative programs to reduce the cost of attendance.

At a minimum, the General Assembly should not interfere with the pursuit of excellence at our colleges and universities, and these bills must be stopped to protect our institutions of higher learning.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.