Lawmakers Celebrate Successful Two-Year Campaign for Delaware Women

 

DOVER – A series of bills crafted to address a host of issues that impact Delaware women every day in their workplaces, doctors’ offices, homes and schools were signed into law Thursday.

The five bills signed today are part of an effort begun last year that focused on three major areas where reform is needed for Delaware women: justice and public safety, health care and employment. The wide-ranging package represents a list of the top priorities for change and revision to state laws that impact women. Seven of these bills were signed into law in 2015.

“We made these bills top priorities, and when we achieved success last year, we came back this year with even more ambitious legislation to keep the spotlight on workplace discrimination, pay equity, and health care privacy,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear.  “Today, we’re here to tell the mothers, daughters and sisters of Delaware that you are allowed to be whoever you want to be. And in our state, you can expect to be treated fairly, you can demand equality, and you deserve the chance to seize any opportunity that comes your way.”

Activist and icon Lilly Ledbetter joined lawmakers and Gov. Markell for the bill signings. Ms. Ledbetter’s struggles with pay equity as a supervisor at an Alabama Goodyear plant ultimately led to Congress passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. Earlier this month, Ms. Ledbetter sent a letter to the General Assembly urging members to pass three bills to address issues that predominantly affect women in the workplace.

“Today, Delaware took a powerful step forward by supporting women’s economic security and the nationwide movement for equal pay. The three bills signed into law work together to ensure that women can share information about their pay, make decisions about their reproductive health, and care for their families without fear of losing their jobs,” said Ms. Ledbetter. “I know firsthand that laws like these make an incredible difference in the lives of women and their families. I urge other states to follow Delaware’s lead in fighting for fair workplaces that allow women to succeed.”

Collectively, the full package of 12 signed bills were sponsored or cosponsored by every woman member of the General Assembly.

“The 148th General Assembly deserves credit for recognizing the various ways bias against women has become systemic in various aspects of our law,” said Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere. “Addressing those inequities through this package of legislation not only has helped us move toward a level playing field, but has shined a light on critical areas, from pay equity to health care access, where there is more work ahead to ensure fairness for Delaware women.”

Gov. Jack Markell recognized women leaders in the Legislature for their commitment to this campaign over the last two years.

“I’m proud to sign this package of bills further promoting equality for women in our communities by strengthening economic opportunity, access to health care, and public safety. Women bring an important perspective to legislating and because of the hard work of our female legislators, women in the state are better positioned to achieve their full potential,” said Gov. Markell. “I congratulate Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Blevins for the leadership they have displayed in their respective chambers on these issues. Their efforts with their colleagues over the past few years have resulted in tremendous progress that was appropriately marked by the participation of one of nation’s most important leaders in fighting for women’s rights, Lilly Ledbetter.”

The bills signed today include three pieces of legislation introduced this year and two measures introduced in 2015:

  • House Bill 314, sponsored by Rep. Helene Keeley and Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, makes it unlawful for an employer to require an employee to keep his or her wages secret.

“Wage secrecy is one of the big barriers that keeps women from earning as much as their male colleagues for the same work. Though it can be considered taboo to talk about fellow workers’ pay, some companies actually prohibit it outright,” said Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “We want all employees, not just women, to be able to talk openly about wage fairness in the workplace.”

“With HB 314, we are sending a clear message to Delaware’s employers: your workers will not be complicit through silence in any attempt to unfairly compensate other employees,” said Sen. Henry, D-Wilmington East. “An open and honest conversation about consistent pay across gender and racial lines is critical to solving the pay equity puzzle and companies should not be able to hush their workers as a means of avoiding it altogether.”

  • House Bill 316, dubbed the “Not My Boss’ Business” bill, reinforces the right to privacy when it comes to health and reproductive care decisions made by employees. This legislation was sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan and Sen. Nicole Poore.

“We’ve heard the stories over and over – employees feel pressured by their bosses to disclose the deeply personal decisions they have made or intend to make related to raising a family,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Bellefonte. “We believe that an employee’s plans for his or her family should have no bearing on business decisions made by their employer.”

“This is fundamentally about fairness: fairness for working families and fairness for women. The decision to start – or not start – a family is theirs and theirs alone,” said Sen. Poore, D-New Castle. “This is a common-sense policy that benefits not only mothers, but also their partners, their children, and their communities, and I’m proud to have sponsored it.”

  • House Bill 317, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams and Sen. Blevins, prohibits employers from engaging in discrimination based on an individual’s family caregiver obligations.

“So often, the role of primary caregiver for an aging parent or a child with special needs is filled by a daughter or mother who also has a full-time job,” said Rep. Williams, D-Newport. “No one should have to choose between earning a living and making sure that a loved one is cared for properly. Employers should judge people on how well they perform their jobs, not the responsibilities they may have at home.”

  • House Substitute 1 for House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Williams and Sen. Karen Peterson, ensures that victims of sexual violence on college campuses have full knowledge of the options available to them, including criminal justice resources available in addition to the internal administrative processes led by their schools.

“During the past year, I have had the opportunity and privilege to listen to survivors of sexual assault on our campuses. I take their stories very seriously and want to see Delaware’s colleges and universities do more to not only prevent sexual assaults on their campuses, but to support and respond to victims properly when they disclose these crimes to university employees,” said Rep. Williams. “As a mother of a college student, I feel a personal responsibility to ensure all of our students are safe from these serious crimes.”

“Sexual violence is an epidemic that our culture has tacitly enabled for centuries. One in four undergraduate women is sexually assaulted, and yet an unconscionable number of rapes go unreported or unpunished,” said Sen. Peterson, D-Stanton. “This legislation takes real steps to inform survivors of their rights and to support them in moments of crisis. Just as importantly, it reaffirms that rape is never the victim’s fault. Our society cannot afford to be bystanders any longer.”

  • Senate Bill 197 requires physicians to educate prenatal patients and families on the warning signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. Bethany Hall-Long and Rep. Longhurst.

“Maternal depression is a widespread issue that affects nearly a third of new mothers. No mother should have to face this type of pain and confusion during what should be a joyful and positive experience,” said Sen. Hall-Long, D-Middletown. “In an effort to enhance the well-being of new mothers and their babies, SB 197 ensures health providers are equipped to detect the warning signs of maternal depression and educate the mother and her family about common symptoms. It’s just one example of this General Assembly’s comprehensive commitment to improving mental health services across our state.”

Below is a listing of the seven bills signed into law in 2015:

  • House Bill 2Requires new police officers to receive victim-centered, trauma-informed and offender-focused sexual assault training. Current officers will receive the training in a window of time after enactment of the bill, and all officers will be required to retrain periodically. Prosecutors also will receive training.
    Sponsors: Reps. Keeley and Longhurst and Sen. Poore
  • Senate Bill 51 - Allows, at a judge’s discretion, for a victim or witness to appear at required court proceedings and give testimony via secured video connection from a separate location.
    Sponsors: Sen. Peterson and Rep. Bennett
  • Senate Joint Resolution 1Mandated an audit of all untested and un-submitted sexual assault kits in Delaware. This resolution also established a work group tasked with creating systemic changes to ensure proper testing of all sexual assault kits in the future.
    Sponsors: Sens. Poore, Henry, Blevins and McDowell and Reps. Heffernan and Hudson
  • House Bill 81 - Added the name and contact information for a federal Title IX coordinator for every public school, including public institutions of higher learning, to the existing Education Profile reports compiled by the state Department of Education. The Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities include hearing reports of sexual discrimination and misconduct and advising students of their rights and courses of action.
    Sponsors: Rep. Smith and Sen. Sokola
  • House Bill 4 - Protects employees by guaranteeing them the right to take leave based on circumstances of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault and specifying that taking such leave is not grounds for termination or discrimination.
    Sponsors: Rep. Bolden and Sen. Blevins
  • House Bill 3Mandated that any company awarded a state contract certify that it engages in fair wage practices and will provide its employees with equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender.
    Sponsors: Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Poore
  • Senate Bill 84Allows mothers who are currently breastfeeding their children to have their jury service postponed by the courts.
    Sponsors: Sen. Henry and Rep. Bolden

 

 

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