February 7, 2023

Bill to teach ‘yes means yes’ during sexual activity clears House Chamber

A bill to ensure New Mexico children are taught affirmative consent – that affirmative consent is necessary before and during sexual activity – during their mandatory health class passed the House Chamber 49-12.

HB 43, Affirmative Consent Policy in the Schools, will require the health class taught in either eighth grade or high school in New Mexico public and charter schools to include a discussion of affirmative consent. House Rep. Liz Thomson, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and one of the bill’s sponsors, said while presenting the bill that “yes means yes,” as a shorthand way of describing what the bill, if enacted, would require the health class to teach.

There is also a section of the bill that would require institutions of higher education to include trauma-informed policies that meet an affirmative consent standard. Thomson said she’s heard from many adults, both men and women, who have said they wished they had heard this information years ago. The idea is that by teaching children affirmative consent standards, there will be less sexual assault, dating violence and sexual misconduct for future generations.

The bill came before the House in the 2021 Legislature, Thomson said and the only difference in the previous version of the bill is that the previous bill required a task force and the 2023 version does not. But several Republicans asked questions about the scope of the bill.

State Rep. Rod Montoya, a Republican from Farmington, asked about whether private, Christian-based schools would be mandated under this bill to include affirmative consent. Thomson said only schools that receive public money would be mandated.

House Rep. Larry Scott, a Republican from Hobbs, asked questions about “the consequences” regarding the bill. He asked if “there’s not something that has to be written associated with this consent, is that correct?”

“Are you asking if they have to sign a document before having sex?” Thomson asked.

House Speaker Javier Martinez, a Democrat from Albuquerque, then asked the representatives to “bring the temperature down just a little, please.”

State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, a Republican from Artesia, asked if the bill wouldn’t require additional resources a rural school district might not necessarily have.

Thomson said no, this would not be the case. A health class could spend as little as one day on the lesson and there are resources available online. She said there are also trainers available.

Stefani Lord, a Republican from Sandia Park, asked about whether parents could opt out and also about consequences.

“They set this in motion; we’re supposed to teach them [about affirmative consent]. What happens if they don’t listen?” She asked.

Thomson said “this bill has nothing to do with that.”

“If someone does not respect it, if they’re not listening in class, there’s nothing we can do to control that. The rules are no sexual activity without consent. If they don’t get that, we can’t help that. This is about teaching bodily sovereignty,” she said.

House Rep. John Block, a Republican from Alamogordo, asked if, during the affirmative consent class, “if we’re teaching this to minors, we’re not teaching underage sex with someone over 18? That would be statutory rape.”

Thomson said the intent is “to give children knowledge.”

“To make sure they know ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no,’” she said.

House Rep. Cathrynn Brown, a Republican from Carlsbad, asked a number of questions regarding the scope of the bill and ended her time by saying that the bill “really convolutes everything.”

“There is such a thing as statutory rape. I hope people realize this is a crime. You’re implying young people can give consent when legally they cannot do so,” she said.

House Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, a Democrat from Milan, said he wasn’t planning to get involved in the debate, but he changed his mind because there had been so much talk about crime and consequences.

“From the debate I’m hearing, I keep hearing about courts and jails. Honestly, is it true that all this legislation does is teach children when ‘no’ means ‘no,’ is that all this is?” He asked.

Thomson said yes with a clause about trauma-informed policies in post-secondary educational institutions.

House Rep. Brian Baca, a Republican from Los Lunas, said he could not support the bill because he felt the bill did not clarify the responsibilities of K-12 educators regarding how to proceed if a student reports an incident to a teacher or staff.

Thomson said those regulations already exist in federal Title IX law.

Two other Democrats, House Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena from Mesilla, and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero from Albuquerque, both spoke from personal experience about the importance of individuals learning about affirmative consent. House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, also a Democrat from Albuquerque and a sponsor of the bill, called the bill a “fairly sensible and common sense approach at the front end.”

“It’s a very simple approach to begin solving a problem without creating a penalty,” Chasey said.

The bill heads to the Senate next.