California's governor vetoed a bill overnight Monday that aimed to preserve Obama-era directives on school sexual assault investigations, which were recently rolled back by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed SB 169, which was designed to undercut the Trump administration's overhaul of Title IX rules. Instead, the veto sent a major blowback to Democrats and anti-rape activists who hoped California would inspire a wave of similar state legislation.
“This is not a simple issue,” Brown said in his veto statement, adding that “given the strong state of our laws already, I am not prepared to codify additional requirements in reaction to a shifting federal landscape.”
The veto comes just three weeks after the Trump administration revoked major federal mandates on campus rape policies, replaced them with interim guidance, and said more permanent regulations are on the way.
The California bill passed with sizable majorities in the state legislature, and Democrats in Congress had written to Brown urging him to sign it. Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system, also publicly backed the bill. The California proposal would've extended several provisions that previously only applied to colleges under federal law to K–12 schools in the state, such as the right for students to know the outcome of a school investigation.
Advocates for accused students had asked Brown to veto the bill, raising concern that minority and low-income students could be more likely to face discipline than white and more-privileged students — which is one issue Brown cited when vetoing the bill. "It is time to pause and survey the land," Brown said.
On Twitter, Families Advocating for Campus Equality, which advocates for accused students, called Brown a "hero" and thanked him for listening to hundreds of families the group works with.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a civil liberties group opposed to Obama-era Title IX guidance, had also criticized the California legislation, complaining that it used too broad of a definition of sexual harassment. Besides that, FIRE's Legislative Policy Director Joe Cohn warned that state bills like SB 169 could end up incompatible with the federal policies DeVos establishes.
"For the next few months, legislatures committing to the status quo are running the risk of having to revisit this in the future," Cohn said.
Hannah-Beth Jackson, the Democratic state senator behind SB 169, said the bill was needed because she did not trust the policies that would be enacted under President Trump.
"With the election of a man who is an outright predator, and certainly a misogynist, who has said terrible things about women, who behaved terribly around women, who has boasted about it, I was concerned that these efforts to advance equity in education would be undermined," Jackson told BuzzFeed News last month. On Monday, Jackson said she was "disappointed" with the veto.
Advocacy group Equal Rights Advocates also expressed disappointment, but pledged to work with Brown's office to strengthen state laws to protect students involved in sexual assault cases.
"The veto of SB 169 will not deter Equal Rights Advocates from rigorously defending Title IX and analogous state laws when it comes to protecting students," Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, told BuzzFeed News.