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Government, Politics & Issues

National 'Greek' organizations drop support for bill opposed by McCaskill

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

For those old enough to remember the classic Schoolhouse Rock lesson on how a bill becomes a law, advancing legislation on Capitol Hill might seem relatively simple. What’s missing from that animated civics lesson is the hardball reality of Washington, where lawmakers not only work to advance their own bills, but also try to kill opposing measures that could undermine their legislative objectives.

U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N,Y., the chief co-sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, appear to have stopped a competing proposal to their own legislation designed to curb sexual assaults on college campuses.

Late Friday, the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference, two umbrella organizations for fraternities and sororities, issued a statement saying they were withdrawing their support from the rival Safe Campus Act. The groups said they were responding to a “groundswell of concern” from their members and as a result were “refocusing” their legislative agenda.

The move comes after the two senators launched an attack a few weeks ago on the groups’ support for the Safe Campus Act, labeling the bill as “misguided,” in a conference call with reporters from across the U.S. The lawmakers argued the bill would make it harder for schools to protect students by imposing burdensome legal restrictions on investigations of sexual assaults not required for other crimes.

After talking with reporters, the senators continued their assault by sending letters to the two organizations and several individual fraternities and sororities highlighting the opposing measure’s alleged deficiencies. At the time, McCaskill hit the organizations where it mattered most, by appealing to their membership. “I would be furious if I were a member of a sorority and my dues were going toward this effort.”

The statement by the groups followed an announcement by eight sororities last week that they would not support the bill, according to a report by the Huffington Post.

McCaskill says that while the two organizations have not announced their support for her bill, she’s “optimistic” they eventually will. “I think our overall goals are the same and I’ve found in the past that when your goals are the same, you can usually work out your differences.”

McCaskill told St. Louis Public Radio this weekend, that the lawmakers “had a great sit-down” with leaders from the two organizations to discuss their concerns about the Safe Campus Act and to answer questions about their own bill.  “We left that meeting optimistic that we’d be able to join forces and work together.”  McCaskill says she and Gillibrand want to work on some language in their bill to address concerns raised by the two groups.  “While they haven’t formally endorsed our legislation, them rejecting the other approach is a major step forward for our legislation.” 

The senators say they expect their bill will either pass on its own or be folded into a larger bill concerning higher education before the end of the year.

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