By Gabrielle Porter, The Santa Fe New Mexican
The distance between “no means no” and “yes means yes” got a little shorter Monday morning when a legislative committee voted in favor of a bill that would require public colleges and universities in New Mexico to adopt “affirmative consent” as the standard for consensual sexual activity.
House Bill 43 would give public post-secondary schools funding to adopt “trauma-informed policies and responses” when investigating instances of sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence or harassment involving students, faculty, staff or leaders.
Part of that adoption would involve recognition of “affirmative consent” as the standard of consent for sexual activity.
California in 2014 adopted a “yes means yes” law that clarified a lack of protest — such as from someone who is asleep or incapacitated — doesn’t signify consent in sexual assault cases on college campuses.
Since then, hundreds of universities around the country — including the University of New Mexico — have individually adopted similar language, according to an analysis of the bill.
Hailey Zock, an attorney at the Southwest Women’s Law Center, testified in support of the bill Monday, telling members of the House Health and Human Services Committee her college experiences underscored the need for a “paradigm shift.”
“I remember that people would talk about a certain party house on campus to stay away from because you would get in trouble for drinking, but nobody would ever get in trouble for the sexual assaults,” Zock said. “This should never be the case.”
A broader version of the proposal, which would have required affirmative consent be taught in K-12 public schools as well, failed last year.
A co-sponsor of the measure, Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said in response to the New Mexico State University men’s basketball hazing scandal in 2022-23 — when three players were accused of sexually assaulting two teammates — the lawmakers decided to focus on the higher education piece of their proposal.
Santa Fe attorney Joleen Youngers, who represented the victims in the NMSU case and said she used to regularly volunteer as an advocate for NMSU victims of sexual assault, told committee members she supports the bill.
“A lot of the students feel that the system is failing them,” Youngers said. “… We need a better system and we need oversight and we need teeth so that victims are protected and also so that the accused have a fair modicum of due process.”
The bill would not change the definition of sexual assault in criminal cases, Thomson said.
Committee members voted 7-1 in favor of the measure, with only Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, voting against it. Lord said she supports much of the bill, but said she wants to talk to law enforcement officers and colleges first.
“It could very well be a yes in the next session,” Lord said of her vote.