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Report by Paula Antolini
April 15, 2015 10:31AM EDT
Senate Democrats Poised to Pass Student-Friendly Legislation
Aiding victims of sexual assault and helping student veterans all on today’s Senate agenda
April 14, 2015 – Two bills designed to help Connecticut college students are poised to be passed in the state Senate today: making special sexual assault nurses available for exams on the UConn Storrs college campus, and examining ways to make Connecticut’s ‘OASIS’ (Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service Members) centers for veterans more effective.
Both bills have passed out of their respective committees on unanimous and bipartisan votes in the past five weeks.
“Today we continue our ongoing commitment to supporting students at Connecticut’s flagship university and campuses across the state,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven). “SAFE nurses provide accessible high-quality care for victims of campus sexual assaults and can help ensure the integrity of critical evidence for criminal investigations. When our veterans trade-in their boots for books it is important that our higher education system provide coordinated supports specifically tailored to our returning student veterans. OASIS centers offer veterans an array of services and information they need to be successful.”
“Supporting our college students means first and foremost that we provide them a safe environment in which to live and learn,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). “That is why we want to extend the SAFE program to our college campuses and build upon the successes that we’ve seen in some of the individual OASIS centers. Both veterans and victims of campus sexual assault deserve to have on-campus resources that provide an immediate response to their most urgent needs.”
The bills up for consideration today in the Senate include:
- Senate Bill 966 An Act Concerning Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners at Institutions of Higher Education. The bill would extend a successful sexual assault forensic examination program from six acute care hospitals in the state to the University of Connecticut infirmary—thereby providing the victims of a campus sexual assault with quicker, more compassionate care. SAFE nurses (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners) receive 40 hours of classroom training and have specialized knowledge of legal issues such as chain of custody and courtroom testimony. From July 2013 to July 2014, SAFE nurses responded to 173 sexual assault cases.
- Senate Bill 694 An Act Concerning Services Available to Veterans on State College and University Campuses. Each public college in Connecticut has a veterans’ OASIS (Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service Members) center, usually a lounge area in a student center for some of the 6,000 veterans enrolled in Connecticut colleges and universities. Veterans use the OASIS centers to meet, study, relax and talk and to gather information on federal veterans benefits, the GI Bill, tuition waivers, disability benefits and more. Each college OASIS is slightly different, however, and SB 694 requires the Board of Regents for Higher Education and UConn to evaluate and assess the different programs offered at the OASIS centers and to identify successful programming there.
“I want to thank the students who contacted me about these bills and who provided the first-person testimony that touched the hearts and minds of many legislators,” said state Senator Mae Flexer (D-Killingly), who is Senate Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee and Vice-Chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “When the victims of sexual assault have quicker access to expert and compassionate care, their healing process begins faster, and the criminal investigation process is expedited. And OASIS centers provide student veterans with the support they need to be successful at our state’s colleges. All student veterans should have access to the same high level of services currently available on many of our campuses.”
“Students are able to do their best work and get the most out of our state college system when they can focus on their academics,” said Senator Danté Bartolomeo (D-Meriden), Senate Chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “One in five college students are victims of sexual assault. Expanding the sexual assault forensic examination program to the University of Connecticut will allow students to receive discrete, compassionate care at their school, rather than having them travel 25 minutes by themselves to the nearest hospital. The OASIS centers offer an important resource for Veterans transitioning to civilian life, providing information on the benefits they have earned and allowing them to meet other students in their school who are returning from military service. These centers help returning veterans build friendships and a strong social support structure that will help them stay in school and succeed.”
“I visited a veterans’ OASIS at Tunxis Community College in Farmington last year and I was struck by what a place unlike any this was—a place of refuge and support,” said state Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), whose senate district includes Farmington. “The veterans I spoke to said OASIS helps them stay in school and deal with so many of the issues that they confront when they return from combat and adjust to civilian life.”