Students working to pass laws

RAO_ADITI FenechAgathaBy: Sommer Danielsen

Since October of last year, CFHS students Aditi Rao and Agatha Fenech have been working tirelessly to craft and perfect bills which they will present to subcommittees as pieces of potential legislation. Both students have the privilege of being selected as part of the executive committee on the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC). Fenech is serving her second year on the council, and Rao is serving her first.

As vice chair of SIYAC, senior Agatha Fenech helps make decisions, agendas and schedules; determines changes to projects and provides support for the 19 other members of SIYAC.  As a member of the Human Rights Committee, Fenech is currently working on a bill known as, “Yes Means Yes” in partnership with SIYAC’s sister organization, Iowa Youth Congress. Recently passed in California, this bill requires college campuses to adopt a policy regarding sexual assault. .

In this policy, both parties must give affirmative consent before engaging in sexual activity. If affirmative consent is not given, the policy guarantees an investigation and protection for the victim. The bill also recognizes that a person cannot give consent if they are asleep or not responsive as a result of drug or alcohol use. Essentially, this bill takes the blame off of the victim; the accused rapist or assaulter cannot justify his or her actions on the basis that the victim did not say no.

Fenech said she realizes the size of the issue she is trying to tackle; however, with this bill and future legislation on the subject, Fenech hopes the amount of sexual assault cases at colleges in Iowa will plummet. “Sexual assault is a big problem, and it won’t be entirely fixed with a single piece of legislation. However, this is a really good first step to dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. This “Yes Means Yes” legislation is groundbreaking because it not only addresses the problem, but also the way we see sexual assault. That’s why I chose to work on this bill, because it really turns around the perspective most people have.” Yes Means Yes is currently Senate File 79, waiting for a subcommittee date. Three sponsors have also filed a concurrent bill in the house.

“This is my second year on SIYAC, and I am so grateful I have been given this opportunity to lead and work with such motivated youth from all over the state. The formal, official side of SIYAC has shown me that I really want to pursue political science and law in my post-secondary education, and the informal side has introduced me to some of the most inspiring young people I have had the pleasure of working with,” Fenech said.

Junior Aditi Rao is part of SIYAC’s executive committee as public relations chair, where she plans events and fundraisers to rally support for the group, and promotes their current projects. Rao is currently working on  a bill that would ban conversion therapy for minors in Iowa.

The goal of conversion therapy is to change a patient’s sexual orientation or the gender that they identify with using an array of techniques, extending as far as procedures like shock therapy.This pseudoscience is based on the belief that a person learns homosexual or transgender behavior. Conversion therapy holds no proof of efficacy, but what it does hold is evidence of psychological harm to patients. With no scientific support for the practice, it has been discredited by nearly all major psychological associations.

This bill has taken its first step in the drafting process and was presented to a subcommittee on Tuesday, Feb. 17. The bill advanced with senators voting 2-1, and it will be presented to a committee of the senate. If the bill advances from the committee, it will be presented to the senate floor, where a decision can be made to adopt the bill as Iowa law.

Regarding why she chose this bill, Rao said it was an emotional calling. “It’s human rights abuse. The fact that we’re allowing this to happen tells youth that it’s not OK to be gay, that you must conform to society’s standards.”

This is just the beginning for Rao, as she plans to pursue a career as a lawyer in the future.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.