HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-As we close out 2015, let’s take a look at how the history books (or more likely, Wikipedia) will view the past year for women. On the national stage, 2015 has been a year of rollbacks. State legislatures around the country have passed 57 bills restricting women’s right to choose, with at least a hundred more laws up for consideration in the New Year. (Photo: Anne Gust, California First Lady.)
One of President Obama’s first presidential acts was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, easing the path for women to fight wage discrimination – yet women still make about 78 cents on the dollar (84 cents in California) compared to men with comparable jobs, even when adjusted for experience and education.
Of the remaining GOP candidates, many have an abysmal track record on equal pay, voting against, obstructing, and deriding equal pay legislation in their states. Chris Christie vetoed equal pay legislation in New Jersey numerous times, including a bill that would have required salary transparency for public contractors, referring to the legislation as “senseless bureaucracy.” Rand Paul not only voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act but compared the act to the Soviet Union’s Politboro and has criticized the idea of equal pay for women. Marco Rubio joined Paul in voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act, saying any equal pay legislation is “wasting time.” Ted Cruz joined his colleagues in voting against the act and derided it as a “show vote.” When questioned about the Paycheck Fairness Act, Jeb Bush wasn’t even sure what it was and has referred to the Equal Rights Movement as “kind of a retro subject.”
Despite the seeming downturn for issues impacting women, our state of California seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, passing numerous pieces of legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on matters ranging from abortion to sexual assault on college campuses.
This year, the Governor signed the Reproductive FACT Act into law, requiring licensed healthcare facilities to post or distribute a notice stating, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” along with contact information for local county social services. Unlicensed facilities must disseminate a notice that the facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the state of California. This law, which goes into effect January 1, ensures clinics provide accurate information and places some restrictions on crisis pregnancy centers that are known to use scare tactics and misinformation to dissuade clients from seeking abortions.
With regard to birth control access, a California law allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills will go into effect in the New Year. Most health plans in the state are required to cover contraception, as well as counseling, follow-up, and voluntary sterilization.
California also leads on the issue of equal pay. This year, Gov. Brown signed one of the toughest pay equity laws in the U.S. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report just this year, California women employed full time receive a median of 84 cents for every dollar received by our male counterparts. The California Fair Pay Act, supported by the California Chamber of Commerce and most GOP lawmakers, broadens federal and state laws requiring equal pay for the same job to include “substantially similar work,” even if titles differ or employees work at different sites. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who ask for or discuss wages.
Two new laws will impact pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. State universities can no longer mandate that female grad students take leaves of absence for pregnancy and those who do take leaves must be allowed to return in good standing. Larger airports in California must provide an area apart from restrooms for lactating mothers to express breast milk.
Sexual assault has been a prominent issue this past year across the U.S. In California, new laws will impose a mandatory 180 days in jail for paroled sex offenders who fail to report for fitting with a GPS tracking device or who make the device inoperable. As of July this year, California college campuses are required to immediately inform law enforcement about sexual assaults reported on campus. The law also provides a chain of command for first response, collection and sharing of evidence, and privacy laws. An additional law requires colleges and universities in the state to adopt affirmative consent by both participants.
California public schools will be required to publish the number of girls and boys who participate in each sport to demonstrate equal access to programs.
Overall, California has a much better report card with regard to issues impacting women than most of the other 50 states and the nation as a whole. Although we have a way to go, women in California are ending 2015 on the up escalator.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue
Pub: Jan 1, 2016