After failing to pass the General Assembly in the 2015 session, legislation to mandate an “affirmative consent” standard at the state’s public and private universities is back for a second round in Hartford.
Introduced by state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, and state Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, affirmative consent legislation passed the Senate by an overwhelming 35–1 vote in the 2015 legislative session. But the bill died after not being put up for vote in the House of Representatives before the session ended. Flexer and Haddad have come together again for the 2016 short session to reintroduce the legislation, which would establish a “yes means yes” standard for sexual consent at colleges, in the hopes of getting it to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s desk before the session closes in May. Advocates for affirmative consent say the bill’s passage would go a long way toward combating rape on college campuses and provide clarity for university disciplinary boards adjudicating sexual assault cases.
“We need these conversations in order to create more understanding and higher expectations for our students,” Flexer said in a press release earlier this month. “The scourge of campus rape is not going to go away by itself; we need to be proactive, and we need to change the debate from ‘No means no’ to ‘Silence doesn’t mean yes — only yes means yes.’”
State Rep. James Albis FES ’16, D-East Haven, said he supports the legislation — which he co-sponsored last year — because it builds safeguards against victim-blaming and sets a higher bar for sexual consent.
Albis, who graduated from New York University in 2006, said members of his generation recognize that the current age is different from the one they grew up in, and questions about sexual assault can no longer be swept under the rug.
Olivia Paschal ’18, the Yale College Democrats’ legislative captain on affirmative consent, said the Dems also pushed for the bill last year. She said the fact that this is the bill’s second time before the legislature means the Dems will take a different approach in their advocacy. The main task is to convince legislators in the House — which will take up the bill before the Senate — that the bill is worthy of a floor vote, she said.
“Because this is the bill’s second time around, the work that we have to do this time is much less educational and much more communicating that this bill is important to college students, it’s important to the constituents of many of these legislators and it’s worth bringing it to a floor vote,” she said.
Paschal referred to a fact that has not gone unnoticed in the bill’s time before the General Assembly: many of its advocates and co-sponsors in Hartford represent districts that include considerable numbers of college students. Flexer’s and Haddad’s districts include the University of Connecticut, and state Reps. Matt Lesser and Roland Lemar — both co-sponsors on the 2015 bill — represent Wesleyan University and Yale, respectively.
Paschal noted that college students can bring a “meaningful and powerful voice” to the issue of affirmative consent — especially Yale students, who are familiar with a campus where affirmative consent is already a University policy.
Albis noted that the 2016 legislative session is a “short session,” running only from February to May, meaning that the effort to pass the bill must be balanced against time-sensitive efforts to pass other urgent legislation. Because this is the bill’s second time in the legislature, he echoed Paschal’s sentiment that educating fellow legislators on the importance of affirmative consent is less crucial than it was last year.
“In a short legislative session, the sooner we can bring the bill up for a vote, the better its chances of passing,” he said.
In an effort to get the bill passed, the Dems will be taking their pleas directly to legislators. Paschal said a group of Yale students will testify before the Higher Education Committee on Tuesday, when public hearing is scheduled for the bill.
Connecticut’s state legislature has a record in recent years of taking action on sexual assault on college campuses. In 2014, legislators unanimously passed a landmark bill that required colleges to provide free counseling services to students who report being sexually assaulted. That same bill mandated that students, employees and police receive training in responding to sexual-violence allegations.