State legislators announce proposal for new affirmative consent bill

State Sen. Mae Flexer listens to Senator Clark Chapin before session begins on the opening day of the legislative session on Jan. 7, 2015. (CT Senate Democrats/Creative Commons)

Two state legislators announced the proposal of a new affirmative consent bill at the University of Connecticut Women’s Center Friday.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, and state Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, would require university disciplinary boards in Connecticut to determine if there was “unambiguous and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” when trying sexual assault cases, according to a Feb. 12 press release. This would apply to both public and private institutions of higher learning.

Flexer said the new legislation is intended to build on the sexual assault awareness programs signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2014 by standardizing colleges’ definitions of consent.

“One of the really important things is the training around consent and talking with students when they initially come to campus, and during their time on campus, about what consent is and what it looks like,” Flexer said. “A student who attends college in the state of Connecticut should have the same expectation of safety as a student who currently attends UConn.”

Affirmative consent policies could also simplify the university court process by creating a “different measure” of consensual sex.

I think the real value of the bill is that it sets an expectation that all colleges and universities will take a look at consent policies. This is about aligning state law with what is already happening on the ground.
— State Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield

“It makes it much easier for the adjudicators to get to the truth. When you ask an accused student what they thought showed consent, it’s often very illuminating,” Flexer said.

According to the Affirmative Consent Project’s northeastern policy map, all five of the state universities in Connecticut, including UConn, have a “strong consent policy,” meaning they include a definition of consent, boundaries of consent and examples of situations. Of the 483 schools included in the study, 274 had a strong consent policy without a state mandate and just 22 were required to do so by law.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research also found that most Connecticut colleges and universities already have affirmative consent policies, but Haddad said some are better written than others.

“I think the real value of the bill is that it sets an expectation that all colleges and universities will take a look at consent policies,” Haddad said. “This is about aligning state law with what is already happening on the ground.”

Flexer and Haddad co-sponsored a similar bill in 2015, which passed in the state Senate by a 35-1 margin before dying on the House calendar.

While California legislators were able to make “yes means yes” law on college campuses last year, 26 states have yet to propose a bill concerning university consent policies, according to the Affirmative Consent Project.

Although Flexer and Haddad remain confident last year’s legwork will pay off, 2016’s General Assembly session will be also two months shorter.

“I think the clock will be a challenge for us this year as well,” Haddad said. “Even as we were sitting on the House calendar awaiting a vote I was working with my colleagues to make sure they knew what the bill does.”

The only member of the Senate to vote against the bill in 2015, Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, did not return request for comment in time for publication. According to the Hartford Courant, Markley said he believed mandating affirmative consent could lead to “greater confusion” and that the state should not be able to target laws specifically at university students.

“I believe that universities should set rules for universities,” Markley told the Hartford Courant. “I think it’s an example of government trying to involve itself in things it is not in a proper position to adjudicate.”

Flexer said she believes the General Assembly’s history of bipartisan support for sexual assault legislation, including mandates requiring colleges to fund victim services and report instances of sexual assault to the state, bodes well for affirmative consent in Connecticut.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have at least this much support again,” Flexer said.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.