S.C. lawmakers require colleges to post fraternity, sorority violations

South Carolina’s public colleges soon could be required to post online misconduct violations by fraternities and sororities.

Under the “Tucker Hipps Transparency Act,” approved by state lawmakers Thursday, colleges must update a website with violations related to alcohol, drugs, sexual or physical assault, or hazing by members of Greek organizations.

The bill, headed to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature or veto, was named after a Clemson University student whose body was found in Lake Hartwell after a predawn run with other fraternity members in 2014.

“This is actually going to help fraternities,” said state Rep. Josh Putnam, R-Anderson, who spent much of Thursday watching the state Senate debate the bill. “It’s going to help improve their image within communities because they’re going to do a better job of policing themselves. They’re going to have a better standing within communities. ...

“You’re going to see college campuses become safer because of this bill. ... Hopefully, we’ll see these horrible instances be avoided.”

If Haley signs the bill into law, colleges would be required to post reports with data going back to December 2012 and make that information available before the 2016-17 academic year. The law would sunset in three years unless extended or re-enacted by the Legislature. Technical colleges would be exempt.

The bill passed the S.C. House 84-0 in mid-March but stalled in the Senate, as some senators said it unfairly targeted Greek organizations. State Sens. Vince Sheheen, D-Kershaw, and Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, briefly proposed broadening the bill to include all student social organizations.

Other senators criticized the proposal saying it could create a “road map” for litigation against colleges.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said the online misconduct listings likely would hurt schools’ recruiting efforts and probably wouldn’t change many students’ decisions about joining Greek organizations. “I don’t see where this report is going to affect anything other than put a black eye on one of our institutions.”

Hipps’ parents disagreed.

“If Tucker had had this information about this organization, he wouldn’t have been a member of it, and he wouldn’t have been on the bridge that day,” said Cindy Hipps, Tucker’s mother.

With just minutes to go before Thursday’s end of the legislative session, House members voted 99-0 to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.

Putnam said he plans to ask the governor to hold a bill-signing ceremony with the Hipps family.

“This is a huge step,” he said.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks