SB 146 would give colleges the authority to conduct criminal background checks but does not require them to do so.
"This legislation fits in nicely with the school safety measures we are promoting this session," said Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, (R-The Woodlands), author of the bill.
Some colleges have discovered that students in on-campus housing occasionally have criminal records, including sexual assault, aggravated assault, assaulting a police officer and home burglary.
"Colleges should be aware of pending criminal charges," Sen. Williams said, citing an example of a student arrested for sexual assault on campus while also facing two pending charges for sexual assault, and another case of a student with a pending charge of home burglary.
Sen. Williams credited Kilgore College for seeking the legislation.
"In today's residential housing environment, it is critical we know our students well and are aware of some of the factors which may impact our campus housing and student life," Kilgore College President Bill Holda said. "We look forward to the final passage of this legislation and the eventual approval by the governor."
Holda also is president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges.
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.
"I have a responsibility to provide safe and secure environments for our students to study and grow as individuals. Senate Bill 146 is an essential tool for our office to have available to insure the safety of residential students. I, along with other housing directors, appreciate the work of Senator Tommy Williams on Senate Bill 146 and its passage through the Texas Senate this week," said Edward Williams, director of student life at Kilgore College.
A similar bill passed the Texas Senate two years ago but failed to advance out of the House before the legislative session ended. Unlike the 2011 legislation, the new bill does not extend the criminal background checks to private colleges.
"Colleges and universities should have the ability to evaluate a student's criminal background before allowing them to live on campus," Sen. Williams said. "SB 146 does not require background checks, it simply allows checks when a school deems it is necessary," he added.
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.
Blinn College officials also supported the bill.
"SB146, along with House counterpart HB895, is about improving safety at colleges and universities in Texas. 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 to insure the safety of our students," said Blinn College Vice President of Student Services Dennis K. Crowson.
Senator Williams represents Senate District 4 covering all or portions of Montgomery, Chambers, Harris, Jefferson and Galveston Counties, and serves as Chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee and is a member of the Senate State Affairs, Open Government and Administration Committees.