The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a bold, pro-choice, legislative package of bills sponsored and supported by the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature, a bipartisan, pro-choice group of lawmakers committed to promoting evidence-based policy solutions to real problems faced by Pennsylvania women and families.
The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is designed to promote family-friendly working conditions, economic fairness and healthy lives. The first wave of Agenda bills was introduced in December, 2013. So far, more than a dozen bills have been introduced, and three have passed into law, including one that protects domestic violence survivors from being evicted for calling the police.
The Agenda is one of the most progressive legislative initiatives in the nation. The Women’s Health Caucus is building on victories by focusing on the following issues in the 2017-2018 session:
Reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was enacted 36 years ago. Yet, even today, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem. Some employers still force women to choose between a healthy pregnancy and employment by refusing to make temporary, minor accommodations, like allowing her to sit on a stool behind a register or carry a water bottle. The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require covered employers to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers
Study after study shows that both mothers and children benefit from breastfeeding. For most babies, breast milk helps fight against disease. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of several health problems. Nursing women shouldn’t be sent to a janitor’s closet or bathroom to pump milk. The Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act would help salaried women not covered by the Affordable Care Act and require their employers to provide break time and a private, sanitary space to express breast milk.
More than 50 years after equal pay became the law of the land, even the most conservative data repeatedly confirm that women working fulltime, year-round jobs are paid less than their male counterparts, with women of color faring the worst. In recent years, progress toward equal pay has stalled. A recent report revealed that, at the current pace, women in Pennsylvania will not earn equal pay for equal work until 2072. The Equal Pay Act will help close the gender wage gap by prohibiting wage secrecy and closing loopholes so that employers cannot get away with paying men more by, among other things, blaming “market forces” or workers’ previous salaries.
Patient Trust Act
Are you sure your doctor’s advice is based on scientific consensus and his or her clinical experience–and not a script from a politician in Harrisburg? Thirty-five states including Pennsylvania have laws that govern private communications between doctors and patients by either gagging doctors from asking patients particular questions or forcing them to relay specific information—even if that “information” isn’t based on medical evidence. The Patient Trust Act will stop this dangerous practice of politicians pulling doctors’ strings.
Increasing the Minimum Wage
Since 2009, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania has been $7.25 an hour — the lowest allowed by federal law. At a $7.25 rate, a minimum-wage worker, working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, earns $15,080 annually, which is below the 2013 Federal Poverty Level of $19,530 for a family of three. More than 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s minimum wage earners are women, and women comprise an even higher percentage of sub-minimum wage workers. Amending the The Minimum Wage Act of 1968 would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, and the sub-minimum, or tipped wage, to 70 – 75% of that rate.
Identifying gaps in health care for women veterans
Approximately 80,000 female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan live in Pennsylvania. The unique challenges that this small but important part of the military face while transitioning back to civilian life often are overlooked. It’s time to take a stand for the women who stood for us in the line of duty. Establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care would create a forum where health issues facing women veterans could be studied and solutions could be explored.
Cell phone contract termination for DV victims
We already know financial obstacles keep domestic violence survivors in abusive situations. One financial penalty they shouldn’t need to pay for their freedom from abuse is early termination fees with cell phone accounts tethered to their abuser, or to remove their abuser’s name from the account. With proper documentation, this bill would also require the cell phone carrier to provide the survivor with a new telephone number.
Lease Termination for DV, sexual assault and stalking victims
Another financial obstacle that works to keep victims in abusive situations is the fee for breaking a rental lease. Rental Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence would allow for early termination of a rental lease (with 30 days’ notice) if the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking. it also would allow victims to request that the landlord change the locks within three days at the tenant’s expense.
Ensuring access to healthcare facilities
This legislation would prohibit the use of physical force, threat of physical force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, interfere with any person who is obtaining reproductive health services or providing reproductive health services. The Pennsylvania Freedom of Access to Health Care Facilities Act would also prohibit the intentional damage or destruction of a reproductive health care facility.
Did you know that women working at very small companies are not as well-protected by laws against sex discrimination as women working for big corporations? It’s true: women working at companies with three or fewer employees are not protected under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits sexual harassment. Working people surely face sexual harassment at small businesses as well as at large companies. This bill would amend the Human Relations Act so that it applies to all employers in the Commonwealth, not just some.
Uniform Reporting of Crimes on Campuses
Crime on campus, including sexual assault, is now a daily part of the national conversation. The bill would amend the Uniform Crime Reporting Act to require colleges and universities to adopt policies and programs to make students, staff and officials aware of the risk of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. It will also require colleges and universities to submit annual reports on sexual assault and intimate partner violence on campus.
Ensuring widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions
The federal government and 27 states have a spousal consent requirement to protect spouses, usually women, from being blindsided after a spouse’s death when they discover that they are not entitled to any of their deceased spouse’s pension benefit. Pennsylvania is not among those states. The Spousal Consent to Pension Benefits legislation would require public employees to obtain spousal consent for benefit payment structures that do not provide a 50 percent survivor benefit.
Encourage workforce participation
To encourage workforce participation among TANF recipients, this bill would increase the amount of income that can be disregarded for the purpose of benefit calculation from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Victory! These Agenda bills were passed into law:
Equitable protections for domestic violence victims
The case of Lakisha Briggs revealed a horrifying reality that landlords were leveraging “nuisance” ordinances to routinely evict domestic violence victims for calling 911 for help. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery), made that practice illegal. It was signed into law as Act 200 on October 31, 2014.
Stop intimate partner harassment (“revenge porn” law)
It is now a crime in Pennsylvania to non-consensually post sexually explicit or nude photos of a former partner on the internet. HB 1901, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery), was signed into law on July 9, 2014 as Act 115.
A “Cliff Effect” Study
The “cliff effect” refers to a vicious cycle when a working parent earns just enough to lose eligibility for the very programs that allow her to work, such as child care assistance. S.R. 62, sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), is a resolution to study this effect. The resolution was approved on June 28, 2014.
Pennsylvania routinely earns abysmal rankings for the status of women’s health. Most recently, a national analysis conducted the Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranked Pennsylvania 31st for women’s health & well-being, 31st for reproductive rights, and 23rd for employment & earnings. The PA Agenda for Women’s Health is a clear, detailed blueprint for a better life for women across the Commonwealth.
The PA Campaign for Women’s Health is a brand-new coalition of citizens and advocates supporting the Agenda as part of a broader campaign to improve the health and economic security of women in Pennsylvania.
Both the Agenda and the Campaign have been well-received across the state, including coverage in the WHYY Newsworks, the Philadelphia Inquirer, WESA Pittsburgh, The Patriot-News and the National Partnership.
For more information or to join the Campaign, email PA4WomensHealth@gmail.com.