Texas Senate Passes Legislation Allowing More Thorough College Background Checks

The state Senate approved a bill supported by Blinn College Wednesday that will allow Texas colleges and universities to gain access to Department of Public Safety files for criminal background checks of students who apply for on-campus housing.

The legislation, which must pass the Texas House before it goes to Gov. Rick Perry to be signed into law, would make it easier for college officials to keep students safe. Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) has authored the House bill pending before the Higher Education Committee.

"These bills are about improving safety at colleges and universities in Texas,” said Blinn College Vice President for Student Services Dennis Crowson. “With the passage of this bill, college housing directors and/or police forces will be able to evaluate a more complete picture of the students who are applying to live in college-owned housing. It will be a big step in improving the safety of our campuses and students.”

Crowson, Blinn President Harold Nolte and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Ann Weir each spoke before the House Higher Education Committee considering the House version of the bill, and Crowson spoke before the Senate Higher Education Committee. Access to DPS files would allow colleges and universities access to pending charges that are currently unavailable.

"Colleges and universities should have the ability to evaluate a student's criminal background before allowing them to live on campus," said Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, (R-The Woodlands), author of the bill. "Senate Bill 146 does not require background checks, it simply allows checks when a school deems it is necessary.”

Only a school's police chief or housing officer would be approved to access the Department of Public Safety's secure website for criminal records. The criminal history record could not be released or disclosed to anyone by the college or university unless by court order, or with the consent of the person. The criminal history record would also be required to be destroyed after the academic semester begins, according to the legislation.

The bill only applies to state-supported colleges.