February 15, 2023

Bill to teach affirmative consent in schools moves forward

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A bill to require teaching affirmative consent in schools passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously on Wednesday.

HB 43, Affirmative Consent Policy in Schools, will, if enacted, mandate that all public and charter schools in New Mexico teach affirmative consent as part of the mandatory health class students already take in middle school or high school. State Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson, D-Albuquerque, is the primary sponsor but another Albuquerque Democrat, state Sen. Harold Pope, presented the bill on her behalf.

Expert witness Alexandria Taylor, executive director of New Mexico Coalition for Sexual Assault Programs, said some schools already provide affirmative consent to students but the decision of whether its taught can often rest with the individual teachers and some do not.

“No one is talking with them about how to have healthy relationships. They explore emotions through emojis without having the language to navigate what they are already navigating. The curriculum includes lessons on how to have conversations, what healthy conversations look like, how to healthily express what you want and do not want,” Taylor said.

State senators Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, and Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, expressed concern about what happens if someone expresses affirmative consent during sexual activity but later regrets the decision. Jess Clark, director of prevention for New Mexico Coalition for Sexual Assault Programs, and also an expert witness, said “this bill is not about punishment after the fact.”

State Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, asked if having this mandate would help bring down insurance premiums for school districts. Taylor said she didn’t have that data.

But Soules, who is a former school principal and teacher, said he has taught AP Psychology in the past and, as a part of that, talked about sex education.

“The students appreciate it. As adults, we’re afraid to talk about sex, but being taboo, it makes it more exciting for kids. The more we talk about it straight up, the better for students,” he said.

The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.