National Beat Reporter
Before the start of the new school year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed several key pieces of legislation into law. In one way or another, each piece of legislation is relevant and important to the University of California, Santa Barbara and Isla Vista community. The bills each deal respectively with issues of sexual assault on college campuses, gun safety, and LGBT rights.
“Yes Means Yes” Law
Senate Bill 967 makes California the first state in the country to require public colleges and universities to adopt a standard of clear consent for students engaging in sexual activity. The law also requires that state colleges and universities develop a plan for helping victims of sexual assault, which includes expanding counseling and health services, as well as requiring more training for faculty in charge of reviewing sexual assault and harassment complaints.
The bill defines “affirmative consent” as an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” The bill goes on to stress that it is the responsibility of each individual involved to “ensure that he/she has the affirmative consent of the others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.”
This law comes after an April 2014 report prepared by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault revealed that 20 percent of college women experience some form of a sexual assault. This statistic was derived from a study conducted for the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. According to the White House report, “most often, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. Many survivors are left feeling isolated, ashamed or to blame. Although it happens less often, men, too, are victims of these crimes.”
“I think [the new law] demonstrates that California, in many respects, is on the forefront on understanding the importance of respect, in the strongest sense of the word… before engaging in activities that require consent,” said Rep. Lois Capps when asked for comment after an event hosted by UCSB Campus Democrats.
Gun Violence Restraining Orders
Assembly Bill 1014 allows a judge to issue an emergency gun violence restraining order to temporarily revoke access to firearms from someone who has been determined to pose “an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another.” Senate Bill 505 requires local law enforcement agencies to develop and adopt policies that encourage officers to search the Justice Department’s gun registry databases to determine whether an individual subject to a welfare check is the registered owner of a firearm.
These bills were introduced to the state legislature after the Isla Vista shooting in May left six people dead and 13 injured.
“Today, Governor Brown helped to honor the life of my son, Christopher, and so many others killed by senseless gun violence by signing AB 1014 into law,” said Richard Martinez, father of Isla Vista shooting victim Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. “Nothing we can do will bring back Christopher, but I’m confident this new law will help save lives and prevent other families from experiencing this same kind of tragedy. States around the country should be exploring this life-saving measure.”
A few weeks before the event, local officers conducted a welfare check on the shooter at the request of his parents, who were concerned about his behavior. The officers conducting the welfare check were unaware that he possessed any firearms.
Under SB 505, officers conducting welfare checks will be encouraged to consult the Department of Justice’s Automated Firearms Database beforehand. Under AB 1014, if a person is determined to pose a danger to themselves or another, then a judge can issue a restraining order to have their firearms temporarily confiscated.
AB 1014 states that a gun violence restraining order can be requested by either a law enforcement officer or an immediate family member. According to the bill, an “immediate family member” is defined as “any spouse, whether by marriage or not, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.” This language implies that the term “immediate family member” applies to roommates. A large majority of Isla Vista residents don’t live with family members, but rather with one or multiple roommates. Under the new law, roommates can petition a judge to issue a temporary gun violence restraining order.
“Gay Panic” Defense Ban
Assembly Bill 2501 amends Section 192 of the California Penal Code to ban the use of “panic defenses” in California criminal courts. California is the first state in the country to ban the use of panic defenses.
When a person accused of a physical assault against a member of the LGBT community uses a panic defense, they are claiming that they were so shocked upon learning of the victim’s sexual orientation that their judgment was drastically affected and that their assault of the LGBT individual resulted from a temporary state of violent and uncontrollable actions. This legal defense is used so that the person accused of murder, where the maximum punishment is often life in prison, gets a reduced sentence of voluntary manslaughter. California law defines voluntary manslaughter as “an unlawful killing of a human being upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion,” the punishment of which is imprisonment in a state prison for either three, six, or 11 years.
The new law clearly states that a defendant’s fear of, discomfort with, or surprise at a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity can no longer be used as a legal defense in an attempt to justify the assault. The law also includes specific language that protects transgendered people by defining “gender” as including “a person’s gender identity and gender-related appearance and behavior regardless of whether that appearance or behavior is associated with the person’s gender as determined at birth.”
“There is absolutely no justification for the use of ‘panic defenses’,” said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, who authored the bill. “Clearly this tactic has been utilized by defendants, unjustly targeting members of the LGBT community, based on damaging stereotypes… With AB 2501, we are moving forward to ensure equality in our courts and making it very clear that discrimination against the LGBT community is intolerable and unacceptable.”