LSU's handling of scandals could make it 'difficult' for university to secure funding, lawmaker says
BATON ROUGE — The second-ranking Republican in the House said lawmakers may consider requiring university officials to be terminated if they fail to report allegations of sexual assault.
Tanner Magee, the speaker pro tempore, also said the Legislature will push LSU hard to improve its handling of the complaints as it seeks more funding from the state and from COVID-19 relief bills.
“There are a whole lot of things that are going to make it difficult for LSU to get what they want this year if they don’t take some better steps internally to address the problem,” Magee said in an interview.
“I’m deeply concerned, and I think part of the problem is that there seems to be a hesitancy within LSU’s administration to fully address it in a way that most legislators are comfortable with,” Magee said.
Magee, who is from Houma, made his comments in advance of a Senate hearing on Thursday on LSU’s mishandling of sexual assault and rape allegations against former football players and the university’s failure to adequately fund an office that investigates such complaints across the campus.
An outside law firm hired by LSU documented the failures, and its report prompted other universities to replace LSU’s former president, F. King Alexander, and former head football coach Les Miles. But LSU’s only disciplinary action was to temporarily suspend two athletic officials who had known about the allegations.
Many of the women in the Legislature have expressed concern about LSU’s handling of the problem, and other lawmakers have criticized the university as well.
Magee has three degrees from LSU and refers to his time there as one of the most “impactful” periods of his life.
“Clearly, I’m concerned for the students who attend there,” he said. “Their safety and health should top priorities.”
But he also cautioned that since the state Constitution requires the Legislature to focus mostly on fiscal issues in odd-numbered years, lawmakers may not be able to do as much as they would like to address the sexual assault issues in the session that starts Monday.
“I think the main thing you’re going to see is a mandatory reporting bill, which just says that if somebody finds out about a sexual assault, they have to report it or otherwise they’ll be terminated,” Magee said. “And that’s great. I don’t see any problems with a mandatory reporting bill, but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be what the public and the students of LSU are expecting of the Legislature.”
After an LSU fraternity pledge, Maxwell Gruver, died of alcohol poisoning and asphyxiation in a hazing ritual in September 2017, legislators passed the Max Gruver Act in the spring of 2018 to increase criminal penalties for hazing.
But limitations on how many bills other than fiscal ones that the Legislature can consider in the upcoming session could keep its response to the sexual assault scandal from being as forceful as many lawmakers would like, at least for now, Magee said.
“While it might not be big, sweeping reform like the Max Gruver Act, I think we’ll still see a lot of dialogue, probably uncomfortable dialogue, with LSU here at the Capitol,” he said.
“We have a problem,” he said, adding that “it’s one of the more technical things that people outside of the Legislature don’t always understand or think about.”
Under the rules, each lawmaker can pre-file only five bills in odd-numbered years that do not relate to state finances. “I would say probably 90 percent of legislators were already committed to their five general bills,” Magee said of legislators before the sexual misconduct scandal at LSU escalated.
“What I’m trying to say is that I think that this event was too close to the beginning of the session to come up with a meaningful push for comprehensive, sweeping changes,” Magee said. “It would be very difficult, especially because most times those pushes take a number of acts.”
“My fear is this: Our response is going to be limited, and it will seem small in comparison to the magnitude of the problem. I don’t want the public, and I especially don’t want LSU students to think that this response is reflective of the actual concern of the Legislature,” he said. “The timing of it, based on how our system works by Constitution, is not going to allow for us to really address it in this session.”
Magee said in a tweet on March 12, “A greater reckoning is needed at LSU. But I think we should pause for a moment and just applaud the bravery of these women who refused to be silenced. Let's not let their courage be in vain.”
And he said in the interview that he feels personally called to take a stand for the women at LSU.
“Not to mention, I’m a husband and father of women. I was raised by women,” said Magee.
He also noted that one of his goals since he was elected has been to “rebrand the Republican Party as more female-friendly, even though I’m a white male.”
“I think that we need to engage in more policies that are attractive to women,” he said. “Sort of our problem right now is that we have a party that is, at best, standoffish to women, or at least standoffish to a broad section of women,” said Magee.
One thing that legislators can do this session is to press LSU officials about the assault issue when they come up to the Capitol seeking money for the school.
LSU is requesting funding for a new science building and a new library. The library alone will cost around $140 million, and LSU is asking for $12 million of that cost this year. It also is expecting to benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“LSU has identified a lot of money that they are interested in the state providing them,” Magee said, “and we have a lot of money from COVID relief that we could give to LSU. I think that you’re going to see legislators pushing really hard for LSU to address the sexual assault problems if LSU comes making those requests.”