January 26, 2023

Bill to teach affirmative consent moves forward

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

The House Education Committee passed the Affirmative Consent bill 8-2 on Wednesday.

The bill, HB 43, sponsored by state Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, would, if enacted, require New Mexico public schools to provide educational training on what affirmative consent means when engaging in sexual activity. The schools, which already require a health credit, Thomson said during the committee hearing, would incorporate the education during the students’ required health class.

The educational training would require students to learn such things as that an individual who is passed out, unable to speak or who says “no” is not providing affirmative consent to sexual activity. Jess Clark, director of prevention for New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said during the hearing that he taught affirmative consent for 10 years across northern New Mexico schools and that hearing a teacher explain affirmative consent in the classroom can be the “first move to access support” for a sexual assault survivor. He also said there is confusion about sexual activity for young people and that requiring this sex education training could be meaningful.

State House Rep. Brian Baca, a Republican from Los Lunas, expressed concern about a clause in the bill that says, “procedures shall include: providing information in writing to the complainant about the importance of preserving evidence.”

“If this is reported to me, and I said, preserve the evidence and anything associated with that. I’m not a police officer. I’m not a person who deals with this kind of trauma,” he said.

Alexandria Taylor, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, spoke in response to Baca’s concern and said that the procedure is “trauma informed.”

“It is a function of advocacy around when someone comes forward. They may report to campus, someone on campus, but it could be months, years, or they may never choose to move forward to criminally report to law enforcement. It’s an advisement to preserve evidence should they choose to report to law enforcement,” Taylor said.

Baca said the graduation requirement in the bill “may actually change.” 

“As an attorney, there may be legal challenges once a complainant has come forward,” he said of the graduation requirement.

According to the Fiscal Impact Report on the bill, the graduation requirement section to HB 43 removes outdated language and adds that health education must include affirmative consent to sexual activity. 

Baca and state Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, a Republican from Artesia, both voted against the bill. 

The bill heads to the House Judiciary Committee next.