SANTA FE — The state House on Monday passed a bill that would require public schools to incorporate into their health classes the standard of affirmative consent for sexual activity.
The curriculum would make clear that consent cannot be inferred from silence or lack of protest.
The legislation triggered testy debate over the course of an hour as some lawmakers alluded to their own experience with sexual assault and others questioned whether the topic is appropriate for minors.
But the legislation, House Bill 43, won bipartisan support in the end, passing 49-12. All of the dissenting votes came from Republicans.
State Rep. Liz Thomson, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the measure, said the bill is aimed at education and ensuring youngsters understand boundaries. It doesn’t, she said, create new crimes or penalties.
“You have the right to say ‘no’ at any point,” Thomson said. “If someone is passed out, that is not permission for sexual activity.”
The legislation also includes a requirement that colleges and universities establish “trauma-informed” policies on sexual assault that include the standard of affirmative consent.
Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill raised questions about which parts of the law would apply to colleges vs. K-12 schools, the definition of sexual activity and how the concept would be taught.
Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, spoke against premarital sex in general and noted that at some ages, a minor cannot consent to sexual activity at all.
“We’ve eroded our pillars of morality,” she said.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
It calls for health education classes — a graduation requirement — to cover the topic of affirmative consent, including that a person’s consent to engage in sexual activity cannot be inferred from lack of protest; cannot be given by a person incapacitated by alcohol or drugs; and can be revoked at any time.
School districts can decide whether to require health in middle or high school.
“The heart of this is bill is we are respecting young people enough to have honest, accurate conversations about their lives, their space, their dignity,” Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, said.