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Bill Sparks Heated Debate Over College Sexual Assault Investigations

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) - Five years after Jessica Higgins was raped, she is speaking out at the State Capitol as lawmakers take a up a bill that spells out how college campuses will investigate sexual assaults.

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Jessica Higgins (credit: CBS)

"There was a lot of fear because I didn't really know what the college campus investigative process would look like," Higgins said.

Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik wants that process to be consistent and fair at campuses across the state.

"We can't keep allowing this to happen on our college campuses," she said.

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CBS4's Shaun Boyd interviews Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik. (credit: CBS)

Martinez Humenik is sponsoring the bill that has sparked heated debate over whether it's fair. It bars the use of attorneys.

Raana Simmons with the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault says attorneys tip the scale in favor of the accused.

"It would turn investigations from a truth-finding process to a who has the most money process," Simmons said.

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Raana Simmons (credit: CBS)

The coalition is also pushing back against an effort to require clear and convincing evidence of an assault as opposed to preponderance of evidence - or more likely than not it happened.

Martinez Humenik says many lawmakers are opposed to the lesser standard.

"In order for this bill get passed have to be fair to both sides," she said.

But, Higgins worries that changing the standard will have a chilling effect on reporting.

state capitol
(credit: CBS)

"I don't think anyone is intentionally trying to be harmful for survivors, but I think there's a lot misconceptions and misunderstandings about how difficult it is to come forward and why we need to have something easier for people to come forward and have faith that they will be believed and treated with respect and dignity," Higgins said.

The bill passed the House, but any changes made by the Senate will need to be approved by the House and time is running out.

The legislative session ends two weeks from Wednesday.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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