On the penultimate day of the Legislative session, HB 43, which would’ve made affirmative consent the standard for teaching consent in public schools, sat as the final item on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda.
The bill sailed through its previous committees and garnered a commanding House floor vote only to languish in the judiciary committee for a little more than a month. The committee was its final hurdle before a Senate floor vote.
The committee ran out of time and no longer had a quorum when it recessed. Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), the chair who controls the schedule for the committee, was one of the members that left in the middle of the meeting.
Advocates for the bill were told the committee would return after the Senate floor session Friday, March 17 to wrap up its agenda, but never did. They did not get an explanation as to why.
“My expectation certainly was not that it would be scheduled before the last day,” said Alexandria Taylor, executive director of New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. “I don’t think there’s anything controversial about the bill that it should sit in committee for 30 days until it dies.”
The bill has been trying to make its way through the Legislature since 2019. That year it died after a Senate floor vote. Last year it was ruled not germane to a 30-day Legislative session.
Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque) said she was disappointed, but would try to get the bill on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s priorities in 2024, a 30-day session, or reintroduce it in 2025.
Thomson encouraged lawmakers to educate themselves on the sexual violence women encounter in their lives.
“It amazes me how often men don’t understand how often women get harassed and assaulted,” Thomson said. “There are some who think rape and assault is the stranger breaking in through an open window, but it’s not that.”
While it’s still unclear why the bill was scheduled in its final committee, as the last agenda item, on the final day lawmakers met in that setting, Thomson said other factors muddied debate. She said disinformation about the bill from the right-wing created a false image about its intent. The bill is not about encouraging students to have sex, nor would it create punishments for people who couldn’t prove the obtained affirmative consent, Thomson said.
She said not passing the measure sends the message that not receiving affirmative consent is acceptable. She cited a story about a meeting she had with a man who said the bill was needed because when he was growing up, boys would often talk about how to get girls drunk so they could have sex with them.
“I believe that kind of behavior still exists,” she said.
Thomson said refusing to talk to young people about sex would not stop them from having sex and it will only leave them vulnerable if they’re uninformed about how to properly ask for consent.
Supporters of the bill said they received broad support that has grown over time, especially from students, many of whom have been at the forefront testifying in favor of the bill, writing letters and leading marches. They did not anticipate such a big fight to get the bill heard.
Taylor said she commended those students for showing up to try to affect change.
“They can’t vote for the most part, they can’t get elected for the most part, they can’t make their own policies so they rely on adults to do that,” she said. “And we weren’t able to get this done for them.”
Jess Clark, director of sexual violence prevention at New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said that while some students have access to affirmative-consent education, as long as it is not a standard across the state, that access won’t be equitable.
But this isn’t the end of the road, he said.
“We will be back, with an even larger coalition,” Clark said. “It is beyond disappointing that students’ access to this education will continue to be dependent on where they live, and we will keep working to change that.”