Maryland Delegates approve ‘yes means yes’ sexual-consent standard in schools

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Maryland’s House of Delegates on Saturday approved legislation that would require public schools to teach a “yes means yes” standard for sexual consent, moving the state one step closer to becoming only the second to adopt such a mandate.

The measure was among a long list of bills the Democratic-led House approved in a busy floor session lasting more than three hours, with a Monday deadline looming for “crossover day.” That refers to the date by which measures must advance out of at least one chamber to have the best chance of reaching the governor’s desk.

The House also passed legislation that would make Maryland the first state to prohibit public and private colleges from including questions about criminal history on their applications. Admissions offices would be able to ask accepted students whether they have been convicted of a crime, but the bill would bar them from withdrawing an offer of admission based on the answer.

Additionally, the chamber approved a measure that would make smoking marijuana in a vehicle a criminal offense rather than a civil infraction, as it is under current law. It also gave preliminary approval to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s $4.7 billion capital budget, with minor changes.

The “yes means yes” bill, which passed with bipartisan support in a 115-to-25 vote, would require sexual-education classes in all Maryland public schools to teach a concept known as affirmative consent, defined by the legislation as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in each act within the course of sexual activity.” Local education officials would decide how to tailor the lessons in an age-appropriate way.

California adopted a similar mandate two years ago.

The push for such legislation comes amid a growing movement on college campuses across the country to adopt affirmative-consent standards for adjudicating sexual assault allegations, efforts that have sparked national debate.

Advocates say the guideline could help prevent rape and ensure justice for victims. But critics say that in practice, affirmative consent is unrealistic and amounts to a “guilty until proven innocent” standard that could be unconstitutional.

The college-admissions bill passed 94-to-45, largely along party lines, with support from the Democratic majority. Proponents of the measure say it will help level the criminal-justice playing field and remove a barrier for felons trying to change their lives for the better.

The capital budget faces one more vote in the House before it could move to the Senate.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Josh Hicks