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Affirmative Consent bill stalled in Senate Committee

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Affirmative Consent bill stalled in Senate Committee

Mar 14, 2023 | 6:10 am ET
By Megan Taros
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Affirmative Consent bill stalled in Senate Committee
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The New Mexico State Capitol on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Santa Fe, N.M. (Photo by Liam DeBonis for Source NM)

More than 30 students – mostly from Capital High School in Santa Fe – flooded the mailboxes of the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of an action with Girls Inc. of Santa Fe last week with pleas that the committee schedule a hearing for HB 43, which would set affirmative consent as a standard for teaching consent in public schools.

Proponents of the bill said the letters were “heartbreaking,” and showed a need for adults to step up and take action to protect young people from sexual violence.

“We’ve seen students who’ve been supporting this bill since 2019 when they were freshman and they’re now seniors,” said Alexandria Taylor, executive director of New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. “So we have a whole class of students who will not receive this education.”

The bill appears to be stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, its final hurdle before a senate floor vote. The bill’s last hearing was almost a month ago when the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the bill.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) was not available in his office multiple times and did not respond to a message from Source New Mexico left at his office.

Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque) implored the committee to schedule the bill to give it a chance at a floor vote. Thomson condemned misinformation posted online against the bill, including the falsehood that the legislation would condemn anyone for physical contact with each other if there was no proof of affirmative consent.

She said some criticism was “too ridiculous to even repeat,” and reiterated that the bill was preventative, not punitive.

“All we want is for everyone to know that only yes means yes,” Thomson said. “No more, ‘Oh, she was passed out so she didn’t say no.’ We want youth, and by extension all of us, to understand that you don’t owe anyone anything.”

The bill was first introduced in the Roundhouse in 2019 and hit several roadblocks, including dying on the senate floor in 2019. Last year, it was ruled not germain for a 30-day session.

Advocates pointed out that the bill has previously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and had strong support in each committee this year. Thomson and supporters of the bill said the public’s support for the bill has only grown since its introduction.

Jess Clark, director of sexual violence prevention for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said young people have been the primary supporters of the bill and have made it clear that affirmative consent is needed in schools to keep them safe.

This year and last year students marched on the Roundhouse to urge lawmakers to pass the bill.

In a video posted to the Girls Inc. of Santa Fe Facebook page on March 7, students encouraged the passage of the affirmative consent bill because they believe it is important to know that they have the right to control who they want to touch their bodies. A banner across the video encouraged viewers to “imagine a world without sexual violence.”

Clark said the bill not passing is a signal to youth that adults are failing them.

“These conversations are happening in really fantastic ways from young people who can envision a safer world than even the one we grew up in,” he said. “This is young people saying, ‘This is what I need to be safe.’ And some of them never got it because we didn’t listen to them.”

Thomson said she remains optimistic. Along with advocates, she’s emphasized the importance of passing the bill to bring meaningful change to young people.

Taylor said it makes her emotional to think the bill would have to wait another two years to get passed when it could be in place and change the lives of students.

“Legislation is only meaningful when people can feel it in their lives,” she said.