Updates: PSU sanctions KDR & House Appropriations Committee calls for DOJ action on Cyber Bullying

Since March of this year, I have periodically blogged about online attacks on women who either use or are targeted through the use of social media. One was a video created by some of the women who have been cyber-bullied reading a few of the online threats they have received so that the public can see what they are facing. One dealt with the statistics associated with cyber-bullying. Another announced a Congressional briefing held on this issue on April 15. Another dealt with a proposed piece of legislation that might help reduce this form of violence. And the first one dealt with use of rape myths and social media by a fraternity at Penn State University to allegedly harass young college women. Congresswoman Katherine Clark.

Today, I have two updates.  One deals with Kappa Delta Rho (KDR), the Penn State University fraternity discussed in my first blog.  And the second one is the first outcome of a letter sent to the US House Appropriations Committee in March that was followed by Congressional briefing on Capital Hill in April.

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

Sign seen at a rally in State College PA on a need to end rape culture.

PSU Sanctions KDR for Harassment, Cyber-Bullying, and Other Issues

Penn State University announced yesterday that KDR has been suspended for at least three years. The administration reversed the student-led Inter-Fraternity  Council (IFC) decision not to revoke recognition of KDR; the “sanction” recommended by the IFC was only to provide “a comprehensive new member education program and participation in sexual assault and bystander intervention training.” 

Instead, the University posted a news article on their website yesterday that clearly sanctions KDR for their cyber-bullying and maltreatment of women.  Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, notified the IFC about the 3-year sanction in a letter stating,

“We base this decision on the sum of misbehaviors exhibited by various members of Kappa Delta Rho. Not every member of the chapter was equally culpable for violation of the University’s expectations for recognized student organizations. Even so, the sum of the organizational misbehaviors is far more than the University can tolerate from a student organization that seeks its imprimatur.”

The University cited hazing, underage drinking, the sale drugs, and the “persistent” harassment of two women along with the “photographing [of] individuals in extremely compromising positions and posting these photos [online].” Click here to read the entire letter.

picture of the US Capital

View of the US Capital that Rep. Katherine Clark associated with her press release regarding the House Appropriations Committee call for DOJ action on cyber stalking on May 27, 2015.

House Appropriations Committee Calls Upon Department of Justice to “Intensify” Efforts to Combat Cyber-Stalking and Bullying.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, I received an email from Steve Thornton, Legislative Aide to Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA-5) regarding the cyber threat appropriations letter Montana NOW, Pennsylvania NOW, and National NOW all signed onto in March that went to the House Committee on Appropriations.

Here’s a copy of the letter that Representative Clark sent to the Appropriations Committee.

Cyber Abuse Dear Colleague (2)

And here’s what the Committee is requesting the US Department of Justice to do to address the issue of cyber stalking and cyber terrorism of women:

Enforcement of Federal cyber-stalking and threat crimes.—The Committee is aware of concerns regarding increased instances of severe harassment, stalking, and threats transmitted in interstate commerce in violation of Federal law. These targeted attacks against Internet users, particularly women, have resulted in the release of personal information, forced individuals to flee their homes, has had a chilling effect on free expression, and are limiting access to economic opportunity. The Committee strongly urges the Department to intensify its efforts to combat this destructive abuse and expects to see increased investigations and prosecutions of these crimes. (p.31 of the Committee on Appropriations report in explanation of the accompanying bill making appropriations for Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016).

In her press release, Representative Clark applauded the Committee’s action.  She stated,

“Too many women have had their lives upended by the severe threats and harassment they have received online, and they often feel they have nowhere to turn for help. These threats cause fear for personal safety, create a chilling effect on free speech, and have a negative economic impact for women conducting business online. That is why we [asked] the Department of Justice to enforce laws that are already on the books, and make these cases a priority.”

That’s Two for Two

Two successes within 24 hours of each other.  NICE!  Thanks PSU. Representative Clark, and all of the US Representatives, advocates, and organizations for your efforts to address these issues in an appropriate manner.

Video: Women Read Social Media Online Threats

For just about 2 months now, I have periodically blogged about online attacks on women who either use or are targeted through the use of social media. One dealt with the statistics associated with cyber-bullying. Another announced a Congressional briefing held on this issue on April 15. Another dealt with a proposed piece of legislation that might help reduce this form of violence. And the first one dealt with use of rape myths and social media by a fraternity at Penn State University to allegedly harass young college women.

Today I thought I’d share a video I stumbled across.  It’s called “Feminists Read Mean Tweets.” The text describing this video tells the story of why mic.com created this video last fall:

A Mic Video original: Jimmy Kimmel’s Angry Tweets is on to something. When it comes being trolled, many people on the Internet have it bad. But feminists in particular are often singled out for vitriol.

The lethal combination of being a woman and having an opinion about the patriarchy is a recipe for a troll cocktail.

This video shows how women who challenge the status quo are treated online on a daily basis. While many have tried to describe what it’s like to be the target of constant, horrible abuse online, sometimes it’s easier to just show, not tell.

As the last sentence says: “Sometimes it’s easier to just show, not tell.” So here’s the “show.”

Be forewarned: there is a lot of rude and nasty language as well as threats of violence directed at these women.

Now that you’ve seen the video, you might also want to read the background story on Mic.com.

Cyberstalking and Online Threats

For the last month or so, I’ve been blogging about cyber bullying and harassment.  These blogs have focused on the posting of nude pictures of women without their consent by Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, legislative proposals to deal with rape culture in cyberspace,and an announcement about a Congressional Hearing on cyber stalking.

These blogs are based on my work with a coalition of people concerned about online threats targeting mostly women and girls.  The participants in this coalition include members, professionals, and leaders at The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Organization for Women, and the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

Last week, the Congressional briefing I posted about was seen by about 2,300 people via a live Twitter feed. This briefing was held by in coordination with The Victims’ Rights Caucus (Representatives Judge Poe (R-TX) and Jim Costa (D-CA), co-chairs) and Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA). Panelists included

  • Michelle Garcia, Director of the Stalking Resource Center;
  • Zoe Quinn, Video Game Developer and Co-founder of Crash Override;
  • John Wilkinson, Attorney Advisor at AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women; and
  • Danielle Keats Citron, Professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

This coalition of women’s organizations created and has now distributed a one-page flyer highlighting the problem of cyber stalking and online threats that mostly target women.  Here’s a photograph of that flyer.

photograph of the Fact Sheet on Cyberstalking and Online Threats

Fact Sheet on Cyberstalking and Online Threats

If you’d like a pdf version of this flyer, you can download it with this link: Cyberstalking-and-Online-Threats

Helping Reduce Rape Culture: Two Legislative Ideas

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

What we need to do to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

I live close Penn State University where the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity’s online cyber bullying activities using Facebook to show explicit pictures of nude and/or inebriated women occurred. As a result of this action and the now ongoing investigations by both Penn State University and the State College Police, Erin Matson’s idea of reducing the legal age for alcohol consumption might be something that states might want to consider. I don’t know where I stand on this, but Erin does make a decent argument here.

Drinking age is a state, not a federal issue. So, if the drinking age were to be lowered, it would have to go through the state legislatures and be signed into law. Just like when the drinking age was raised back in the 1980’s.

To some extent, the same is true for any law that might be enacted to deal with online cyber-bullying and stalking, often known as revenge porn. If interstate commerce is involved in the bullying and stalking, federal law can and has been created (see here and here). If not, then this issue has to be dealt with at the state level.

States across the country have recently enacted or are considering bills to punish perpetrators of revenge porn and online cyber bullying or stalking. Here in Pennsylvania, legislators passed a “revenge porn” bill known as the “UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE AND DAMAGES IN ACTIONS FOR UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE Act;” it became law on September 8, 2014. It however does not cover online bullying outside of dating or marriage relationships since the law restricts coverage to a victim who is a “current or former sexual or intimate partner.” This law makes the non-consensual dissemination of such images a misdemeanor offense.

I understand that the PA legislature may now revisit this bill to expand the law to cover such types of bullying activities outside of an intimate relationship as a result of the KDR incident. When they do, I would recommend that they expand the law to all forms of cyber bullying and stalking in addition to any non-consensual dissemination of such images. This would include severe harassment and bullying threats that place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

This proposal would, I believe, help create a state-based law similar to federal law (18 U.S.C. 875 and 18 U.S.C. 2261a) that “ makes it a federal crime to transmit threats of bodily injury in interstate commerce and criminalizes the use of electronic communication to place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.”

Finally, there will be a Congressional hearing on on-line cyber-bullying and stalking on April 15. This hearing is being set up by Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) with the assistance of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This hearing will focus on concerns about gender violence in all forms of social media. I’ll post a comment here once I find out where and at what time the hearing will be held.

This Cringe Worthy Email From A Recruiter Shows The Daily Nightmare Faced By Women In IT

These type of comments are creepy, sexist and occur in all fields of occupation, particularly in non-traditional work. Cat calls are the most blatant. Ones like these that put down women for their brains that are also be accompanied by what she looks like are just as demeaning and are a from of sexual harassment, imho.  They create a hostile work environment based on gender.

Central Oregon Coast NOW

AUTHOR: KERRY-ANNESEPTEMBER 1, 2014 6:10 AM

A002-Copy

This is not a come-on between two users of an internet dating site, but a genuine first approach by a male IT recruitment consultant, to a female software developer.  It neatly sums up the daily nightmare of sexism faced by women in the world of IT.

The recruiter opens his email,  entitled “are you for real???” as follows:

“I want to start by asking if you are a real developer? Lol, sorry if that rubs you the wrong way but you are a beautiful well educated young woman whose professional career is in software development.”

Because of course, how could a pretty little thing like her possibly know her Java from her SPARK (programming languages, keep up people)?

The cringe worthy approach was made through professional networking site LinkedIn.  Rather than fuming silently, the woman in question  posted a screenshot of the…

View original post 380 more words

Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health: Phase Two

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On June 3, I gave an update on the second roll-out of bills associated with the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. At the time, I did not have the bill numbers associated with each of these new bills nor did I have the information on where they were sent to. Now I do. Here’s that information.

Phase Two

Curbing Political Interference in Providers’ Medical Decisions:

H.B. 2303 will soon be introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D—Allegheny) to protect the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care. Senator Mike Stack (D—Philadelphia) has agreed to introduce the Senate version of this bill

Identifying gaps in health care for women veterans:

S.R. 262 has been introduced by Senator LeAnna Washington (D—Philadelphia and Montgomery) establishing a 17-member Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care that will study health care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans. It is currently in the Senate VETERANS AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Committee. The House version is sponsored by Representatives Pam DeLissio (D—Philadelphia an Montgomery) and Kevin Schreiber (D-York); their co-sponsorship memo is currently being circulated, but no bill number has yet been assigned.

Fighting deep poverty among women with children:

There are three different bills designed to address this issue.

    1. S.R. 62 has been introduced by Senator Chuck McIIhinney (R—Bucks). This resolution “directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study approaches to family work support programs which will increase income, keep families working and mitigate the circumstance referred to as the cliff effect.  This effect occurs when working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches.  The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.” It was sent to the Senate Aging and Youth Committee for review. On June 10, this committee unanimously voted in support of the bill and the bill is now waiting for the next review by the full Senate.
    2. H.B. 2305 will soon be introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D—Montgomery). It will increase the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need. This bill will increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50% of the Federal Poverty Level and would allow annual adjustments to be made based on revisions to this index of poverty.
    3. H.B. 2306 will soon be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D—Philadelphia). It will increase in the TANF Earned Income Disregard from 50% to 75% to encourage individuals to work by acknowledging that working families have unique expenses that take up a large percentage of their take home pay. This increase would help offset the additional taxes, transportation, clothing, and child care co-pays associate with working. The current disregard level is not enough to offset these additional costs.  A Senate version to be introduced by Senator Judy Schwank (D—Berks) is circulating a co-sponsorship memo to introduce this same legislation in the Senate; a bill number has yet to be assigned.

Ensuring widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions:

There are two different bills designed to address this issue. These bills require that a public employee select a retirement plan payment structure that provides no less than a fifty percent (50%) survivor annuity to the employee’s surviving spouse. These bills would bring spouses of public employees the same survivor protections that all other employees currently have. This is necessary since the federal Retirement Equity Act of 1984 does not cover employees of the state, local municipalities, or public schools. These bills mirror the spousal protections provided in federal law. Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D—Bucks) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the House for H.B. 2307 and H.B.2308. Senator Vincent Hughes (D—Montgomery and Philadelphia) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the Senate to introduce similar legislation in the chamber.

Protecting all employees against sexual harassment:

H.B. 2300 has been introduced by Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-LeHigh) to amend the PA Human Relations Act to extend the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state. Currently law only affects employers with four or more employees. This bill is currently in the House LABOR AND INDUSTRY Committee.

Taking Action on the PA Agenda for Women’s Health

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo of a woman successfully scaling Nittany Mountain and working for equality

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo

And FYI, my local chapter of the National Organization for Women — Ni-Ta-Nee NOW — will be circulating a petition in support of this Agenda at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, PA on July 10-12, 2014. Our table will be located in front of Freeze Thaw Cycles, 109 S Allen St, State College, PA 16801 from 10 am to 8 pm each day. Please drop by, learn more about this Agenda, sign the petition, register to vote, and join NOW.

Pennsylvania for Women’s Health Agenda Update

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Last September, a bicameral, bipartisan caucus was created in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to review, discuss, and propose legislation to improve the health of women in the Commonwealth by addressing the genuine needs and concerns of women in the state. The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health was created as a comprehensive plan to address the real-life stories and concerns of women in terms of protecting and expanding women’s reproductive health, improving women’s economic security, and improving safety in their lives.

The First Set of Bills

On December 11, the first five bills were presented and introduced into both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The first set of bills addressed a variety of concerns for women by:

  • Making sure that women receive pregnancy accommodations in their workplace;
  • Creating a 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner;
  • Addressing “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work;
  • Expanding access to cervical cancer treatment. This bill is a state Pay Equity bill similar to the federal Paycheck Fairness Act;
  • Eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently;” and
  • Outlawing “revenge porn,” a form of digital intimate-partner violence.

Of the first six set of bills, four have had some movement since my first detailed look at the bills on January 22.

Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act

The House version of the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (HB 1892) was formally introduced and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee where it is still awaiting a hearing. The companion Senate bill (SB 1209) was introduced on March 31 and was referred to the Senate Labor and Industry Committee; it too is awaiting its first hearing.

Pay Equity

The Pay Equity Bill basically hasn’t moved since being introduced. The House version (HB 1890) was introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee on February 19. The Senate version (SB 1209) was introduced and referred to Senate Labor and Industry Committee on March 31; it has not moved since its introduction. However, the House sponsors of HB 1890 have filed a “Resolution to discharge committee from further consideration.” This was filed on April 7. This type of resolution is a rarely used tactic to force debate on a bill when the chair of the committee the bill is assigned to refuses to hold hearings on the bill. We are now waiting to see how the full House will respond to this resolution.

Victims of Crime

The bill protecting victims of crime by eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently” (HB 1796) was introduced on October 22. After its introduction, the House Local Government Committee amended the bill to clarify that bill only applies to cases that involve victims of violence, abuse, or “individuals in an emergency” if the person making the call had a reasonable belief that police intervention or emergency assistance was needed. It unanimously passed House January 14, 2014. It was then referred to Senate Local Government Committee. January 21, 2014. Unfortunately, on March 11 the Senate Local Government Committee was tacked on an ALEC bill as an amendment, turning this good bill into a bad bill. This local ordinance sick-leave preemption bill undermines the safety of domestic violence victims. Under the amendment, local governments would lose their authority to require employers to offer paid or unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Leave from employment is often critical to a victim’s survival in both the short- and long-term. This amendment adds another purpose and intent to HB 1796 that conflicts with its original commitment to protect victims. Advocates, including but not limited to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Women’s Law Project, and Pennsylvania NOW, are urging the legislature to support the version of HB 1796 that was passed by the House of Representatives and to remove the problematic language that was adopted in Senate Local Government Committee. We still support the portion of HB 1796 that would eliminate local nuisance ordinances that penalize a victim for seeking help from emergency services. As a result of our subsequent lobbying to remove this amendment, the Senate has temporarily tabled the bill.

Revenge Porn Prohibition

The “Revenge Porn” bill is the most successful of this first round of bills. The Senate version (SB 1167) was amended in Senate Judiciary Committee January 14, 2014 and sent to the floor for 1st consideration. It unanimously passed the Senate on January 28, 2014 and is now residing in the House Judiciary Committee alongside HB 1901.

The Second Set of Bills

Today, the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus announced the second package of bills to be introduced. They include five bills intended to:

  • Curb political interference in providers’ medical decisions. This bill protects the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care;
  • Identify gaps in health care for women veterans by establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care to study health issues facing women veterans;
  • Fight deep poverty among women with children. This bill Includes a study of family work support programs in the Commonwealth, increases the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need; and increases in the TANF Earned Income Disregard;
  • Ensure that widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions by requiring public employees to obtain spousal consent for benefit payment structures that do not provide at least a 50% survivor benefit; and
  • Protect all employees against sexual harassment by extending the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state.

Pennsylvania NOW is one of the organizations supporting this full agenda to improve women’s health. I am their lobbyist. At the press conference this morning, I handed out our statement of support. In that statement, I supported each of these bills, saying, “It’s high time that doctors were supported in their right to refuse to provide medically inaccurate information. The increases to TANF cash assistance grant levels and the eligibility asset limit will encourage saving and financial independence. We’re also glad to see sexual harassment protections extended to all workers, and see that female veteran’s health concerns finally get the attention it deserves.”

As advocates for women’s health and equity we are pleased to see the legislature taking a pro-active stance to help improve the lives of women here in Pennsylvania. As Caryn Hunt said in the Pennsylvania NOW press release, ““The women of Pennsylvania need – and now finally have – champions in the legislature who recognize that government must work for all of the people, women included.” We are pleased and “strongly support this Agenda that puts the health and well-being of women and their families first.”

(note: The bill numbers associated with each of these bills will be announced on this blog as soon as I know what they are or will be.)

 

Roe v Wade Anniversary: Pro-Active Legislative Agendas

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that says that women have a constitutional right of access to safe abortion services throughout the country.  Since 1973, the right-wing has been pushing back and chipping away at this right. These attacks over the decades have expanded beyond access to abortion and now include all areas of family planning and access to women’s health care. As a result, women’s rights and reproductive justice advocates have been on the defense in an attempt to ensure that all women of reproductive age have full access to all forms of reproductive health.

For a very long time, conservatively controlled legislatures have narrowly focused on restricting women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services. We need a pro-active legislative agenda at the national and state levels to counter this chipping away of our basic rights.  And this is starting to occur.

It’s something we need to focus on, spread the word about, and celebrate on this 41st anniversary of the Roe decision.

Advocates for reproductive justice have had some success in 2013 in their pushback on our back reproductive and healthcare rights.  For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, with the assistance of thousands of advocates crowding the capital successfully delayed the passage of an onerous anti-abortion law. And the city of Albuquerque voted down an anti-abortion referendum.

Legislatures too have started to pushback.  And that’s what I’d like to focus on today. Two states so far have decided to take a pro-active stance – New York and Pennsylvania.

New York

Last year, New York State decided to fight back with their “9 Point Plan for Women’s Equality.”  This plan, known as the Women’s Equality Act covers nine broad areas of concern:

  1. Safeguarding Reproductive Health by a) codifying the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, b) ensuring that women can obtain a safe, legal abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy; c) ensuring that physicians won’t be prosecuted for providing this care; and d) retaining the provisions in current law that would prosecute those who harm women;
  2. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace;
  3. Fighting Human Trafficking by a) creating an “affirmative” defense of being trafficked when a person is charged with prostitution, b) increasing penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, c) creating the ability for victims of trafficking to take civil action against their perpetrator, and d) creating some new criminal offenses in increasing level of severity for some forms of trafficking;
  4. Supporting Domestic Violence Victims by creating a pilot program to allow victims of domestic violence to testify remotely against the alleged perpetrator of violence when requesting a protection from abuse order;
  5. Creating Fair Access to Housing by adding source of income and status as a domestic violence victim to the state’s anti-discrimination law;
  6. Ending Familial Status Discrimination in Employment by adding protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law for employees who have children 18 years or younger residing in the home;
  7. Allowing Payment of Attorney Fees by granting litigants who win a sex discrimination case the ability to receive attorney fees as part of the settlement;
  8. Improving the Sexual Harassment Law by expanding the prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace to employers with fewer than four employees so that all places of employment are covered; and
  9. Securing Equal Pay by a) closing a loophole in New York’s law that allows employers to justify lower wages for women, b) outlawing wage secrecy policies, and c) increasing damages to prevailing litigants for up to 300% of unpaid wages.

In June 2013, Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act was blocked in the NY State Senate because there were enough right-wing legislators who decided to quash the bill due to a provision in the package bolstering access to abortions. However, advocates have not given up. Governor Cuomo has renewed his commitment to passage of the Women’s Equality Act and advocates in New York State are gearing up for another run for successful passage of this bill.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators recognized this positive effort from our sister state to the north.  In September 2013, a group of Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle formed a new legislative caucus to proactively focus on women’s health and equity.  It is called the Women’s Health Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus is co-chaired by Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny and Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Rather than the narrow efforts commonly seen in Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict women’s access to reproductive health programs, the Women’s Health Caucus was formed to redirect legislation towards a woman’s health equity agenda. This broad, proactive agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

To celebrate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I decided to summarize the bills that have both been introduced and those that are in the works for introduction later this year that focus on some portion of women’s reproductive health and focus on some of the other bills at a later date. This is a work in progress by the Women’s Health Caucus and as such, there may be more bills in process that I don’t yet know about.  The ones discussed here are the health-related bills that have been introduced or have been discussed as potential bills by the Caucus.

Bills in Pennsylvania Legislature to Honestly Address Women’s Needs

As I stated in a blog in September reporting on the first meeting of the Caucus, the Women’s Health Agenda package of bills can be divided into three groups—reproductive health issues, women’s safety, and economic sustainability.  The focus here today is on the bills associated with reproductive health.

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus introduced the first seven bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.  Four of the seven bills announced that day focus on some aspect of women and children’s health.  Three of these bills have been introduced and are currently in committee in at least one, if not both, Houses.  The fourth bill is still being circulated for co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

Healthcare-Related Bills that Have Been Introduced and are in Committee

Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers

This legislation requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It fixes two main loopholes that are present in federal law under the Affordable Care Act. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. It also requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. This legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if these requirements present an undue hardship on the employer. Representative Mary Jo Daley is the prime sponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives.  It was officially introduced H.B. 1895 on December 12, 2013 with 22 co-sponsors and is awaiting first review in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Daley describes this workplace need for nursing mothers:

“Study after study makes it abundantly clear – both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and helps fight against disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression. Moreover, breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Currently, approximately two dozen states have laws on the books relating to expressing milk in the workplace. Sadly, Pennsylvania does not. The only applicable law on breastfeeding that applies to employers in the Commonwealth is the Affordable Care Act’s amendment to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for non-exempt employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, exempt employees include those that are on salary (exempt from federal overtime provisions), often in managerial positions.”

Ensuring access to health care facilities:

This legislation creates a 15-foot buffer zone around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients’ access to the facilities would be banned. H.B. 1891, sponsored by Representative Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was introduced into the House with 23 co-sponsors on December 12, 2013 and is currently awaiting review in the House Health Committee.  S.B. 1208, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was introduced into the Senate with 8 co-sponsors on January 16, 2014 and is currently awaiting review in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Representative Bradford describes his bill this way:

“Safe and unfettered access to health care facilities should be the right of all Pennsylvania women seeking medical counseling and treatment.  Accordingly, I plan to introduce a bill prohibiting a person from interfering with a person’s right to seek medical services by knowingly patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating in a very limited zone extending fifteen feet from a health care facility, or driveway or parking facility.

Please know this legislation is not intended to limit the free speech rights of any individual.  Other states including Colorado and Massachusetts, and some municipalities such as Pittsburgh have instituted “buffer zone laws.”  These laws were not imposed on a whim; they were a response to increasing threats, confrontation and even deadly violence. It is important to note that buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down volatile instances and confrontations.”

Senator Farnese, using his own experience as a clinic escort, describes the legislation he has introduced:

“This legislation will provide safe access to essential health care services when patients are seeking family planning and reproductive health services.  Often, patients seeking services at a healthcare facility are verbally and physically harassed and intimidated.  Having had experience as an escort for women into health care facilities, I have seen first-hand the potential for violent confrontations between patients and demonstrators.

This legislation will be carefully crafted to ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services while still protecting First Amendment rights to communicate a message.  In order to ensure both parties’ rights and safety are maintained, this legislation will provide clear guidance regarding restricted entry zones around entrances and driveways of medical facilities.

Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statewide buffer zone.  Two municipalities, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have enacted buffer zone ordinances.  Providing for a content-neutral buffer zone at all medical facilities in Pennsylvania will promote the health and welfare of those who visit those facilities for services while maintaining protection for those individuals who would voice their constitutionally protected speech outside such a facility.”

Increased eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings:

This legislation allows women between ages of 30 and 65 to apply and qualify for the state Healthy Woman Program. H.B. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia/Delaware, was introduced on January 2, 2014 and is awaiting review in the House Human Services Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Donatucci describes the need for greater access to breast and cervical cancer screening:

“The statistics surrounding breast and cervical cancers are truly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, 206,966 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and 40,996 women died from the disease.  Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and is one of the most deadly. While the risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, large numbers of young women face the reality of this disease every year. With regards to cervical cancer, the disease is often not diagnosed because of missed opportunities for screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. All women are at risk for the disease, but it is most common in women over the age of 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Act 74 established a program to support breast and cervical cancer screening services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women 40 to 49 years of age through DoH’s Healthy Woman Program. Before the implementation of Act 74, the program only had sufficient federal funding to provide these screening services to women ages 50 to 64. Today, the program is funded through a combination of department funds and through a grant DoH receives from CDC. My legislation will increase access to these important health screenings [by lowering the age of initial access to women.  This would] allow women between the ages of 30 and 65 to qualify for the Healthy Woman Program if they meet all other applicable requirements. The statistics show that these types of cancer are not confined to women of a particular age. As such, screening qualifications should be expanded in this state to reflect this reality. The money we spend on screening today saves thousands in treatment costs down the road.”

Co-Sponsorship Memo Being Circulated

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women:

This legislation requires an 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. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate were announced on December 11, 2013.  H.B. 1892 is sponsored by Representative Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; and S.B. 1209 is sponsored by Senator Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. Both bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsors.

Senator Smith’s co-sponsorship memo summarizes his bill (S.B. 1209) this way:

“Currently, federal law protects women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to pregnancy; however it does not require employers to provide pregnant women with certain necessary and temporary accommodations to ensure their health and safety during pregnancy. My legislation would bridge this gap.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at the same time during their careers, and my legislation would ensure that they can balance each part of their life in a way that is safe and practical for all parties involved.”

Representative Painter has named his version of this legislation The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  His co-sponsorship memo describes HB 1892 this way:

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy, or similar related medical conditions.

Today, unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the ability to carry a water bottle, or help lifting heavy objects.  Those women who continue working without having these medically-advised accommodations risk their health and increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority, and wages.  These losses also contribute to measurable long-term gender-based pay differences.

The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it unlawful for a covered entity to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.”

Other Women’s Healthcare Bills in Pennsylvania that Are Being Discussed but Have Not Yet Been Introduced

As I mentioned in my blog at the end of September when the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus first met, there are a total of at least 24 bills that are/will be part of the “Agenda for Women’s Health.”  At least two of these bills are directly related to Reproductive Justice and Health. They were not part of the original roll-out, but are somewhere in the process of being written and/or circulated for co-sponsorship. I do not know when these bills will be introduced.

  • Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable postpartum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any incarcerated woman known to be pregnant.
  • Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

So on this 41st anniversary of Roe, I will celebrate this day by reiterating a statement I made on December 11, 2013:

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women. They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Thanks to everyone who is working for these two pro-active women’s health agendas. Thanks to the advocates across the country who have taken the momentum to stand up for our lives. And have a great Roe v. Wade Day as we go on the offense for women’s health and lives.

A Further Comment on Violence Against Women and Children on V-Day

I received a comment on LinkedIn this morning in response to my posting titled VAWA Passes Senate: One Step Toward Ending the Climate of Indifference Towards Violence Against Women.  My status statement said, “Feb 14 is V-Day. Rise to end indifference towards violence against women.”  A man in one of the groups I am a member of responded with a question:

So, please explain how we are being “indifferent” towards violence against women. There are laws against violent attacks on any human being – women included. Are these laws being ignored in cases where a woman is the victim?

I think not.

What we see here is another group who wishes to reap the benefits of victim status whether the facts bear them out or not. Beware of those who believe that they deserve special treatment – especially when that special treatment comes at the expense of others.

His question deserves a response.  Which I gave him within LinkedIn.  Since there are many others how might have a similar question but aren’t on LinkedIn, I’m commenting here as well.

The Violence Against Women Re-Authorization Act (VAWA S.47) does not call for special treatment of anyone. VAWA is calling on fair treatment of ALL victims of violence.

A climate of indifference is a climate where attacks against others – sexual assault, acquaintance or domestic violence, sexual harassment, and stalking– are ignored, covered up, or made light of. And in some instances, the climate of indifference is perpetuated when the alleged perpetrator is treated more lightly than someone else who may have committed the assault simply because of his status or affiliation.

That’s what has partially been happening with the Athletics program at Penn State University since 1994 and which helped lead to the situation of the child sexual assaults done by Jerry Sandusky. That’s part of what is happening in Steubenville, OH in the rape case where perpetrators made a video of themselves and others carrying a teenage girl from one house to another and raping her. That’s what led to the DC police refusing to take a police report last week from a friend of mine after a man exposed himself to her and masturbated because she didn’t stay with the man until the police came!

In addition, VAWA’s re-authorization has been delayed for over two years because some legislators – mostly Republican, including the majority of the US House of Representatives – are indifferent to the violence perpetrated on Native Americans, immigrants, and gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered persons. This “indifference” towards violence against specific people is based solely on the victim’s status, is disparate treatment, and IMO is discriminatory.

Yes there are laws in place. Yet, until all victims are treated fairly and in a timely fashion, I will continue to call out people and communities for creating a climate of indifference that allows this to continue. All people need to live in safe communities and homes.

Ending this climate of indifference wherever it occurs is a start towards caring for our loved ones.  PASS VAWA NOW!