Bill would allow background checks for students wanting to live on campus

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Students at public universities in the state may start being subjected to criminal background checks that could determine whether they are allowed to live on campus. 

A bill passed on the Senate floor Wednesday would allow — though not require — public higher education institutions to obtain criminal history information from the Texas Department of Public Safety. According to a press release, only the school’s police chief or housing officer would be allowed access to the documents, and a student’s criminal history background check would be destroyed after the beginning of the semester. 

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, authored the bill.

“Colleges and universities should have the ability to evaluate a student’s criminal background before allowing them to live on campus,” Williams said in the release. “SB 146 does not require background checks, it simply allows checks when a school deems it is necessary.”

University spokesman Gary Susswein said UT is currently looking into how the bill would affect their housing admissions process if it is passed.

“Keeping our students and the campus community safe is one of the highest priorities for UT-Austin,” Susswein said. “We will review this legislation closely to see what impact it will have on us, our students and the larger campus community.”

Aerospace engineering freshman Rebekah Voigt currently lives in Jester Dormitory and said she already feels completely safe. Jester East and Jester West are the two largest dormitories on campus with nearly 3,000 residents combined, according to the Division of Housing and Food Service website. Voigt said although she feels secure in her dorm, the bill may be a positive change.

“I feel perfectly comfortable in my dorm right now, so I don’t think that would help me feel more comfortable because I don’t feel unsafe right now or anything,” Voigt said. “I don’t generally like the government intruding, but at the same time this almost seems like it could be good.”

Voigt said she felt the only situation that would make it necessary to reject a student’s on-campus housing application would be in the case of a sexual assault record.

“Personally, I wouldn’t be worried about someone of the same gender,” Voigt said. “I would be more worried about sexual assault — like if they had a history of sexual assault, then maybe that’s when you wouldn’t want them living [in a dorm]. That would be the only case, I think. It does seem like it could be a good idea.”