The House gave final passage Wednesday to a bill ordering state colleges to craft campus safety plans that lay out rights for victims of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence or domestic violence — aiming to prevent communication failures that contributed to the murder of University of Utah track athlete Lauren McCluskey.
The House passed SB134 on a 67-2 vote, and sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration. It earlier had cleared the Senate 27-0.
With the bill, “Our campuses will become safer and more stable places for all our students to attend,” said Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, the House sponsor of the bill.
It comes after McCluskey's father, Matt, earlier testified that “this bill is in some sense written in blood.”
He noted Lauren had stopped dating Melvin Rowland when she discovered he was a registered sex offender, and later contacted campus police to report his harassment and extortion attempts. Her mother, Jill McCluskey, had also warned the school’s police that Lauren was in danger. Frustrated, Lauren reached out for help to Salt Lake City officers, who bounced her back to campus law enforcement.
On Oct. 22, the 21-year-old track athlete was killed outside her dorm by Rowland, who died hours later by suicide.
Her father, a Washington State University professor, said the bill could remedy some of the “systemic failures” exposed by his daughter’s death, including breaking down silos and calling for improved communication between on-campus and off-campus organizations and agencies.
In Lauren’s case, two of her friends told staff at the school’s dorms that Rowland talked about bringing a gun to campus. Housing employees did not pass on the information to university police. In addition, campus police never reached out to the Department of Corrections, which knew that Rowland was on parole and some of the allegations could have sent him back to prison for violating his terms of release.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, has noted that having those conversations could have saved Lauren’s life.
The University of Utah has previously said the bill “ties in nicely with what we’re trying to do” to improve. The independent review team that examined the school’s shortcomings in McCluskey’s murder provided a list of 30 fixes, and the university has begun putting those in place. They include having the police department hire more officers and a victim advocate; develop a working relationship with existing victim advocates elsewhere on campus; and train all police staff about interpersonal violence issues.
Matt McCluskey earlier made a request of lawmakers at a hearing: “Jill and I really only have one request, and it is a simple one. Remember Lauren Jennifer McCluskey. ... Remember how she lived. Remember how she died. And through your actions, honor her memory.”