A bill intended to address the legal terms "consent" and "forcible compulsion" for certain sex offenses failed to advance from a House panel Thursday.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-7 to advance House Bill 1141, which would define the term "consent" and redefine the term "forcible compulsion" in state criminal code. To advance, the bill would have had to receive votes from a majority of the 20-member panel.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, said Thursday evening that she was still in discussions on how she might proceed with the bill. She said she had heard from victims and law enforcement detectives who were supportive of the measure.
The committee's decision came a week after a lawmaker raised concerns the bill could make it harder to prosecute sex offense cases. The panel delayed its consideration of the measure to allow officials to gather impact statements.
During Thursday's meeting, Lundstrum pointed to case law supporting definitions included in the bill and said lawmakers had amended the measure to address concerns raised in committee.
A statement prepared by the Arkansas Sentencing Commission said the sentencing impacts of the bill could not be determined using available data.
Lundstrum said the bill would allow courts to clarify the term "consent" when addressing juries.
"This not only protects the innocent but will hopefully convict the guilty," she said.
Under the bill, "consent" is defined as "a freely given, knowledgeable, and informed agreement by a person who is not physically helpless, mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or under the legal age to consent."
Under current law, "forcible compulsion" means "physical force or a threat, express or implied, of death or physical injury to or kidnapping of any person."
The measure would expand this definition to include any "bodily impact, restraint, confinement, or threat of bodily impact, restraint, or confinement, whether express or implied" and any "other behavior that results in a sexual act against the will of the person upon whom the sexual act is committed."
While speaking on the bill last week, Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, said he appreciated the intent but questioned if the measure could make it more difficult for prosecutors to try sex offense cases by broadening definitions in state code. Having tried rape cases as a prosecutor, Gazaway said he felt defense attorneys would use extended definitions to their client's advantage.