Column: A win for students and triumph for bipartisanship

For the Valley News
Published: 7/31/2020 9:43:09 AM
Modified: 7/31/2020 9:43:06 AM

A campus sexual assault prevention bill, written in part by college students and championed by a Democratic New Hampshire House and Senate, was recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu as a part of a omnibus legislative package (HB 705). Amidst all the chaos of COVID-19 and the bitterness of national politics, this is a victory for transparency, a victory for student activism, and a victory for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, all without (practically) any mudslinging from either side of the aisle.

Back in February, I personally testified for the sexual assault prevention bill, (known as SB 679) before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of the Every Voice Coalition, a student-run advocacy group against campus sexual assault. The coalition is the bill’s primary author, as it was written in large part by students themselves.

The bill outlines clear policy requirements for colleges, including improved transparency, confidential counseling, evidence-based training, coordination with law enforcement, and a memorandum of understanding with local rape crisis centers and health centers.

The most remarkable thing I remember about testifying for the bill was the total lack of opposition. I remember the bill’s lead sponsor and chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, remarking to me that the bill had the smoothest hearing she’s ever seen in her time in the Senate. The governor of New Hampshire himself wrote a letter of support for the bill that was introduced as testimony in the hearing. The bill sailed through the Senate, 24-0. But, as COVID-19 disrupted the legislative process, the bill seemed like it might not even be introduced to the House.

Fortunately, the bill made its way into HB 705, the omnibus package that included several other bills aimed at tackling sexual assault, some that generated more opposition than ours.

We didn’t know if the bill would pass, so we organized phone banks and social media campaigns to push it through. I remember sitting at my desk, looking at a spreadsheet of phone numbers of state politicians, getting voicemail after voicemail. But it worked. The bill got through to the governor’s desk and, after we organized another hundred or so calls to Gov. Sununu’s office, it was signed into law.

The bill became law because of student organizing and bipartisanship. Common-sense bills like this should, and oftentimes do, pass with no opposition. They are extremely important, and should be covered just as much as any hotly contested legislation. Focusing on what the Legislature gets done, rather than what it fails to do, can be a powerful uniting force.

This bill will improve the lives of all students in New Hampshire. It’s a victory for everyone at a time when I think we can agree we all needed one.

David Millman is a Dartmouth sophomore and the New Hampshire co-chair of the Every Voice Coalition, a student-run advocacy group against campus sexual assault.

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