Bipartisan House-Senate caucus unveils Pa. Agenda for Women's Health
HARRISBURG, May 11 – Members of the legislature's Women’s Health Caucus today unveiled their "Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health" for the new session at a Capitol news conference.
The caucus is co-chaired by Reps. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Frank Farry, R-Bucks; and Sens. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.
Frankel said, "We need to do more than honor women with words and Mother's Day cards – our bipartisan caucus is putting forth a package of legislation that would make specific progress for Pennsylvania women in areas such as family-friendly working conditions, economic fairness, ensuring healthy lives and help for victims of domestic violence."
Farry said, "Women’s health is an important issue and we in the General Assembly take it seriously, including the health of our female veterans and active duty military personnel. In Pennsylvania alone, there are nearly 80,000 women veterans. While the proportion of women veterans to male veterans continues to increase, the unique health needs of women can be overlooked in providing services to a large, and predominantly male, veteran population. This comprehensive package of bills will go a long way in ensuring all Pennsylvania women, including our veterans, have health care options to meet their needs."
Schwank said, "Women and families play a pivotal role in the overall health of our communities and the commonwealth. To know that there are still many things we can do to help deliver better policies, better laws and better protections for all means we still have some work to do. That is why this bipartisan caucus is coming forward again with good proposals to make a difference."
McIlhinney said, "The idea of safeguarding women’s health goes well beyond simply ensuring access to quality care. I am proud to work with my colleagues to address a wide variety of topics related to women’s health, including measures to improve working conditions and accommodations for women and families."
The bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health include:
Family-friendly working conditions
- Workplace accommodations for pregnant women: H.B. 1176, sponsored by Reps. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, and Mark Cohen, D-Phila.; and S.B. 40, sponsored by Sen. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. This legislation would require a covered employer to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the employer's operations.
- Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers: H.B. 1100, sponsored by Reps. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, and David Parker, R-Monroe; S.B. 826, sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks. This legislation would require employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It would fix two main loopholes in federal law. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. Secondly, it would require employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. The legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if they would present an undue hardship to the employer.
- Protecting all employees from sexual harassment: H.B. 846, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh; and S.B. 506, sponsored by Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. These similar bills would end the exemption from state sexual harassment law for those who employ three or fewer people.
- Equal pay: H.B. 1160, sponsored by Reps. Tina Davis, D-Bucks, and Brian Sims, D-Phila.; and S.B. 303, sponsored by Sens. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, and Anthony Williams, D-Phila. This legislation would clarify and update the legal standards for pay-equity lawsuits, including by closing the "factor other than sex" defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors such as education, training or experience.
- Raising the minimum wage: H.B. 250, sponsored by Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin; and S.B.s 195 and 196, sponsored by Sen. Christine Tartaglione. These bills would raise the minimum wage in steps to $10.10 per hour and also increase the lower minimum wage for tipped workers to 70 percent of that rate (Senate legislation) or 75 percent (House bill).
- Retirement security: H.B.s 1185 and 1186, sponsored by Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks. This legislation would require that a public employee obtain spousal consent for any benefit payment structure that does not provide at least a 50 percent survivor benefit to the employee’s surviving spouse. 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.
- Exempt more earned income from TANF income limits: H.B. 1123, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Brownlee, D-Phila.; S.B. 203, sponsored by Schwank. This legislation would raise the exemption from 50 percent to 75 percent to encourage people to work, acknowledging that low-income working families' expenses use up a large percentage of their take-home pay. At the current level, families in Pennsylvania often find themselves in roughly the same spot financially after they start working as they were before they started working, taking into account taxes, transportation, clothing and child care co-payments.
Ensuring healthy lives
- Patient trust: H.B. 1105, sponsored by Frankel. This legislation would protect patients and providers from inappropriate, unscientific legislative intrusion into medical decision-making. It would protect the patient-provider relationship from statutory directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with the standard of care.
- Creating a task force on women veterans' health care: H.R. 234, sponsored by Farry and Rep. Pamela DeLissio, D-Phila./Montgomery. The task force would submit a report by April 2016 on health care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans.
- Ensuring access to health care facilities: S.B. 809, sponsored by Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Phila.; and H.B. 1158, sponsored by Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery. This legislation would create 15-foot buffer zones around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients' access to the facilities would be banned. Some cities such as Pittsburgh and some states such as Colorado and Massachusetts have passed such laws already.
Protecting victims of domestic violence
- Cell phone contract termination for domestic violence victims: H.B. 1108, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York. This legislation would exempt domestic violence victims from fees when removing themselves from an abuser's cell phone contract or having the abuser removed. It also would require cell phone companies to provide new phone numbers to domestic violence victims with appropriate documentation.
- Early lease termination for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking: H.B. 1051, sponsored by Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery. This legislation would allow for early termination of a rental lease with 30 days’ notice if the tenant is the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking, and to have their locks changed within three days at the tenant’s expense.
- Safe Campuses legislation: S.B. 202, sponsored by Schwank; H.B. 1173, sponsored by Reps. Tina Davis, D-Bucks, and Maria Donatucci, D-Phila./Delaware. This legislation would require all colleges and universities to adopt policies and programs to make students, staff and officials aware of the risks of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. It would also require colleges and universities to submit annual reports on occurrences of sexual assault and intimate partner violence on campus.
The Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of legislators partnering with interest groups and advocacy organizations seeking to develop and implement legislation and social policy that protects and respects a woman’s right to make private, personal medical decisions.