Bill to tighten higher education harassment policy advances in Legislature.

(KCPW News) On Wednesday, a bill that would align Utah higher education harassment policy with the Supreme Court’s definition of harassment passed its initial vote in the Senate.

The definition of harassment used in House Bill 159 comes from the 1999 Supreme Court case Davis Vs. Monroe County Board of Education, where the high court defined harassment as conduct that is so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it undermines a student’s ability to receive an education.

Republican Representative Jordan Tuescher from South Jordan, the sponsor of the bill, says current higher education harassment policy is too subjective and can lead to punishing students who should be otherwise protected by free speech.

“Unfortunately, overbroad anti-harassment policies are the single most common way that universities punish or chill the free speech of students.”

Currently, the University of Utah’s harassment policy bans any unwelcome conduct which has the purpose of interfering with someone’s work or academic environment.

“Now under this definition, a single unwanted request for a date, an unwanted sexual advance or joke, or even discussions of a serious sexual or racial topic in a class that other students might find unpleasant or disagreeable could be considered harassment.”

House Bill 159 would also require higher education institutions to post their policy regarding student expression in the handbook as well as on their website, and to provide that information in student orientation.

The bill passed its initial vote in the Senate by a margin of 27-to-1 and requires one more vote before being sent to the governor.

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