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Student due process bill passes Senate

The North Dakota Senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow attorneys to actively represent college students facing suspension or expulsion in university disciplinary hearings.

The bill would allow students and student organizations, if the organization faces suspension or removal from the university, to have the right to an attorney or non-attorney advocate "who may fully participate during any disciplinary procedure." The right would not extend to accusations of academic misconduct.

Senate Bill 2150, sponsored by Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, was passed 45-1 Thursday. Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the only dissenting vote.

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, said attorneys are currently able to attend disciplinary hearings but may not participate in them.

"We're going to change that," he said. "We're going to allow (them) in these serious cases to make sure that there's due process."

The bill also gives suspended or expelled students the right to appeal the university's decision. If an appeal is successful, the university may reimburse the student for any tuition and fees paid during the time they were suspended or expelled, the bill states.

Attorneys and advocates could be hired at the student's or student organization's expense.

Holmberg had cited the experience of former UND student Caleb Warner in proposing the bill.

Warner was accused of sexual assault by a fellow student in 2010. Although he was never charged with a crime, he was banned from the UND campus for three years. His accuser was later charged with falsifying a report to law enforcement, and UND's sanctions against Warner were eventually lifted.

The North Dakota University System had raised concerns about the costs of adding legal staff because of the bill. A fiscal note pegs its cost at $830,000 during the 2015-2017 biennium.

"We believe that the goal of the bill can and should be achieved in a more narrowly tailored way," said Christopher Wilson, general counsel for university system in Fargo, in written testimony.

The bill was amended from its introduction to only allow attorneys participate in serious cases involving suspension or expulsion.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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