Saluting equal rights for women

State Sen. Chuck Wiger
District 43

The United States has come a long way since Susan B. Anthony and the National Woman Suffrage Association started their movement to treat women equally in this nation. Thanks to their hard work, and the efforts of all of the women that followed, denying a women’s right to vote, hold office or own a business and property now seems like a ridiculous, backwards practice that is hard to imagine ever existed in our nation’s history.

With that said, there are still steps we need to take to treat women equally in Minnesota. A collection of proposed legislative reforms, known as the Women’s Economic Security Act, have been proposed to provide equal opportunities and pay for women. The various policy changes include – requiring businesses contracting with the state to develop a pay equity plan; expanding pregnancy and sick-leave benefits; protecting women from workplace discrimination and domestic violence; encouraging women to enter non-traditional and high-wage jobs; and providing retirement security.

The pay equity language would require businesses contracting with the state to complete a pay equity plan (approved by the Commissioner of Human Rights). Contracts in excess of $500,000 would be subject to this change and compliance certificates would be valid for two years.

The legislation also provides women who have a child, adopt or are incapacitated as a result of pregnancy to take unpaid leave from 6 weeks up to 12 weeks. Employers would be able to require employees to provide reasonable notice regarding when they plan to take leave.

The governor recently signed legislation into law that will phase in an increase in state’s minimum wage to $9.50 in 2016. The minimum wage will be indexed to inflation beginning in 2018 under the oversight of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Clearly, the minimum wage increase will affect both men and women, but according to the National Women’s Law Center, about seven in ten minimum-wage workers in Minnesota are women. Proponents of the wage increase believe it will have an impact on our gender pay gap and I believe it will be extremely beneficial to many Minnesotan families.

We also successfully passed legislation to give home and community based services and intermediate care facilities for those with developmental disabilities a 5 percent rate increase. With women leading the charge in these services, this increase will have a large impact.

A lot of the work happening at the Capitol has an impact on the state but not necessarily news worthy. This legislation on the other hand, is something Minnesotans should be proud of. We cannot change the way women were treated in the past, but we can help shape the future, and this legislation sets out to do just that.

As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment.  Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?,” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16. I can be reached by email at sen.chuck.wiger@senate.mn and by phone at 651-296-6820.

 

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