Safety bill could be dangerous

The West Virginia Legislature will have to weigh heavily a proposal which has been put forward in a concern for the safety of our state’s colleges and universities, but could quickly become an abuse of power.

House Bill 4009 would allow West Virginia’s institutions of higher education to perform background checks on any student residing – or applying to reside – in on-campus housing.

In addition, the bill – as it has been proposed – would allow any students, at their own expense, to have the same background checks performed on current or future students.

The safety of the students on their campuses should be among the primary concerns of any college or university. If someone living on campus potentially could endanger other students, officials should be aware of that possibility.

We understand the concern for safety in providing a college with such authority; however, we hope lawmakers remove that second aspect of the legislation as quickly as possible. While it is unlikely a college student will be able to afford to run multiple background checks on their peers, it still leaves open the possibility of abuse of power by students as well as concerns over student privacy.

Also of concern would be how this new service will be supported financially. Some colleges who have commented on the legislation already have mentioned the possibility of increasing tuition or student service fees.

We want to encourage our young people to attend college in West Virginia, and even attract those from out-of-state who are pursuing their continued education. We cannot afford to drive them away.

House Bill 4009 was introduced by Del. Gary Howell, from Mineral County, with support from 10 other delegates; none from our area. It currently sits before the House Education Committee.

This legislation needs to be debated and examined closely before any action is taken.