Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Campus disclosure law easier than expected

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT - A law requiring prompt, public disclosure of fires and crimes on campus has been fairly smoothly implemented, the University of Kentucky's police chief said Monday.

        “Overall, it's not been overly problematic, as some of us expected it would be,” Capt. Rebecca Langston told the General Assembly's interim Education Committee.

        A woman who lobbied for the law after her son died in a dorm fire said Capt. Langston's statement represented a significant turnabout by UK officials.

        “Their attitude is one of the best,” Gail Minger said. “They were fighting this bill hard when it first came up” two years ago. “They thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was.”

        The law, named the Michael Minger Act, in essence requires Kentucky's public and private colleges and universities to let the public know about campus crimes and all fires, whether accidental or intentionally set.

        That includes maintaining a daily, public log of crimes. A fire on campus is to be immediately reported to the state fire marshal. A fire scene on campus cannot be cleared or cleaned up without the fire marshal's permission.

        Michael Minger, 19, of Niceville, Fla., died in an alleged arson fire in a dormitory at Murray State University on Sept. 19, 1998. His family alleged that an arson fire in the same dormitory less than a week earlier was contained and hushed up by the university. Had he known about it, Mr. Minger would have moved out, his mother said.

        Gail Minger lobbied for a disclosure law, and the General Assembly enacted it in 2000. The law was amended this year to add some fine details, such as defining “immediately” to mean that the fire marshal must be notified, at the latest, within two hours of a fire or threat of fire being discovered.

        The amendments, made at the behest of at least two schools she would not identify, rankled Gail Minger.

        “I've come to understand you cannot legislate attitude,” she told the Education Committee.

        Another result of the Murray State fire was the launching of an effort to get student housing up to modern fire-safety standards statewide, including installation of sprinklers. The last of the projects - the Cooperstown and Shawneetown complexes for married students at UK - are scheduled for completion in 2004.


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