Legislation and petition initiatives which would permit sex and race discrimination are moving forward in at least 21 states and at the federal level. Backed by wealthy right-wing donors and the Republican party, the proposed bills and initiatives aim at both eliminating affirmative action programs and sanctioning many forms of sex and race discrimination and sexual harassment. Women's right advocates have called these actions the most direct and fundamental attacks yet made on equality for women.
Perhaps the most dramatic of these efforts is the California "Civil Rights" Initiative which is moving quickly through the process to appear on the ballot in the November election. Over one million signatures have been gathered for this amendment to California's constitution -- considerably more than the 694,000 names needed. The initiative contains some carefully fashioned language which obscures that fact that, if implemented, it would invalidate laws that prevent women from being fired for becoming pregnant, being excluded from certain jobs, denied equal access to educational or athletic opportunities, and being forced to accept sexual harassment in order to receive a paycheck.
Clause (a) of the phony "Civil Rights" initiative repeals affirmative action: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." This would apply even in cases where applicants are equally qualified and there has been ongoing discrimination against women or people of color.
Clause (c), known as the skeleton clause, states that "nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the to the normal operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." Constitutional law scholars who have analyzed these provisions note that the skeleton clause leaves the bare bones of sex discrimination law in place, but with a huge loophole! Text such as "reasonably necessary to the normal operation..." are code words which relegate sex discrimination law from a high or medium level of scrutiny to the lowest standard of judicial review.
In everyday terms, clause (c) language allows for discrimination against women and girls in employment, admittance, contracting, wages, and promotion for any reason, depending on the interpretation of "reasonably necessary." For California women, this change is especially regressive in that they enjoy constitutional protections against discrimination which are higher than those at the federal level.
Other states where petitions are being circulated are: Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Illinois, and Washington. At least fifteen states have similar legislation pending, usually filed under the misleading titles of "Civil Rights Acts" or "Equal Opportunity Act."
Seven related bills to have been introduced into Congress:
Civil Rights Restoration Acts of 1995, S. 26 and S. 318, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), both to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make preferential treatment an unlawful employment practice. The bill, if passed, would disallow affirmative action programs, among other things.
Equal Opportunity Act of 1995, S. 1085, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), with co-sponsors Sens. McConnel, Simpson, Kyl, Brown, Nickels, Grassley, and Shelby, to prohibit discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sex, with respect to Federal employment, contracts, and programs. This would prohibit any programs to ensure women- and minority-owned business's access to federal contracts.
Act to End Unfair Preferential Treatment, S. 497, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), and co-sponsored by Sen. Faircloth, to amend title 28, United States Code, to provide for the protection of civil liberties. This bill, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and section 15 of the Small Business Act. The intent is to prohibit any preferential programs in public employment, public contracting, or provision of a federal benefit in education for any member of a race, color, age, gender, ethnic, or national origin group.
Act to End Unfair Preferential Treatment, H.R. 1764, sponsored by Rep. David Funderburk (R-NC), same as S. 497.
American Action Act of 1995, H.R. 1840, sponsored by Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA), to ensure equal opportunity in employment, education, and contracting. This bill is similar in intent to S. 497 and H.R. 1764.
Equal Opportunity Act of 1995, H.R. 2128, sponsored by Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL), to prohibit discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sex with respect to Federal employment, contracts, and programs, same as S. 1085. the Dole bill listed above. (See comments in Special Alert below.)
In states where "civil rights" or "equal opportunity" initiatives are being circulated and signatures are being solicited, take quick action to analyze the proposed changes. Make it known that the language could be deceiving: that the actual intent of initiative proponents in many states is to allow discrimination against women and people of color. If you are in a state not noted above and hear of legislation being introduced into the state legislature or of an initiative petition effort being started, please help us by gathering information. Collect a copy of the proposed bill(s) or the initiative petition's actual language and forward it to National NOW's government relations office.
Alert NOW activists as well as community leaders. Tell your state legislators not to sanction discrimination in any form. Similarly, let your member of Congress know that you do not want him or her to support discrimination against women or people of color with the bills that have been introduced. Ask them to be specific about their views on this legislation. E-mail National NOW for more detailed information on the legislative proposals and initiative language (firstname.lastname@example.org).
SPECIAL ALERT: As we go to press, the House Constitutional subcommittee, headed by Rep. Charles Canady, was holding a mark-up session for H.R. 2128, the so-called "Equal Opportunity Act of 1995," which, if passed, would cause a number of very undesirable changes in the laws relating to women and minorities. NOW members should immediately call, fax or e-mail the following seven members of the subcommittee: Rep. Henry Hyde, (R-IL), Rep. Michael Flanagan (R-IL), Rep. Martin Hoke (R-OH), Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Should the bill move into the full Judiciary committee, the following Republican members need to be contacted: Hyde (Chair) (IL), Moorhead (CA), McCollum (FL), Gekas (PA), Coble (NC), Schiff (NM), Gallegly (CA), Buyer (IN), Bono (CA), Heineman (NC), Bryant (TN), Chabot (OH), Barr (GA), and the subcommittee members named above. The House of Representatives main phone number is 202-225-3121.
Identify yourself when you call as a concerned voter or as a constituent if you are from the appropriate congressional district. State that you are opposed to H.R. 2128, the Canady bill, because it would wipe out three decades of bipartisan federal civil rights enforcement policies; that it would also eliminate all effective federal affirmative action programs; and, the bill would place in serious jeopardy equal opportunity for women and minorities.
A final vote on the Conference Report for the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion Ban" (H.R. 1833 and S. 939) has not been scheduled as of yet, but is expected to happen at any time. Since the measure, known as the Canady-Smith bill, passed the Senate by a 54 to 44 vote and the House by a 288 to 139 vote, our goal is to make sure that we can prevent an override vote following a promised Presidential veto. The points that you should make in your phone calls, faxes, letters, and e-mail messages are:
As reported in the previous Legislative Update (2/9/96), a narrow 'life endangerment' provision adopted in the Senate bill is inadequate and would not allow a physician to exercise his or her best medical judgements to protect a woman's health or life in a late term abortion. For that reason alone, all members of Congress should be voting against final passage.
This legislation is a direct threat to women's health and no major medical organization supports it. Some have termed the effort as an unprecedented and unwarranted Congressional intrusion into medical practice. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women's Association, and many other medical professional groups have come forward to oppose the bill.
States where late term abortion ban bills have been introduced are: California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. In three states (WA, MS, CO), the D & X bill has died in committee, but is moving forward in all other states, with the exception of CA where legislation has not yet been assigned to a committee. As noted in a previous Legislative Update, an Ohio law banning the D & X procedure has been placed under preliminary injunction by a U.S. District Court judge who said that the law was unconstitutionally vague, that the D & X ban violates the undue burden standard established under the United States Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and that the state may not take away a pregnant woman's right to have a post-viability abortion where it is medically necessary to preserve her life or health. (A summary of the ruling, which may be informative for discussions with state legislators, is available from NOW government relations.)
Contact your Senators and House member to urge him/her to vote against the D & X ban and to oppose a veto override. Urge President Clinton to remain steadfast in his plan to veto, emphasizing the fact that the Senate's narrow life endangerment amendment is not sufficient to ensure that the woman's life or health is protected. The President has said that he will veto it if the bill comes to him without the life and health exception.
Section 507 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Conference Report on S. 652, amending 18 U.S. C. 1462, prohibits discussion of certain information about abortion via interactive computer on-line communications services. Cong. Pat Schroeder (D-CO) is planning to introduce legislation to repeal this section. Violations of the section are punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and up to five years' imprisonment.
The provision was sponsored as part of the Communications Decency Act by Cong. Henry Hyde (R-IL), who said that he did not intend for Section 507 to limit anyone's First Amendment rights. NOW has joined in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law. The U.S. Justice Department has also issued a statement indicating that they did not intend to enforce that provision because of questions about its constitutionality.
In a recent letter to her colleagues, Cong. Schroeder noted that this "high tech gag rule" could criminalize:
"This abortion-related gag law clearly violates our First Amendment rights," the Congresswoman concluded.
Ask your Congressmember to co-sponsor the bill. Protect reproductive rights by letting your Senator or House member know that you support Cong. Schroeder's bill. Sponsor of a corollary bill in the Senate is Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
Full implementation of the Violence Against Women Act continues to be slowed by disagreement over the federal budget. Most programs which were intended to be launched this fiscal year are effectively being held in limbo. Additionally, two especially critical components are still missing: $18.1 million for construction of badly-needed shelter space for 60,000 women all across the country and funding for judicial training on domestic violence. Other components are being funded at levels below the FY 96 authorized amounts under the current Continuing Resolution.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE or TDD 1-800-787-3224) is up and running. The first week over 3,000 calls to the Hotline were received. Trained counselors will answer the calls and refer inquiries to local service providers.
NOW is gearing up to prepare for the next generation of legislation to stop violence against women, hoping to greatly expand efforts into education and prevention areas.
Send this message to your member of Congress should be: "No part of the funding package for the Violence Against Women Act should be deleted or reduced -- it forms a comprehensive package which needs to be maintained if the programs are to work properly." The next Continuing Resolution, if there is one, needs to fully fund VAWA programs at the authorized levels.
Additionally, if you have any suggestions for the second generation VAW legislation, please forward your ideas to NOW at the end of this update.
As of early March, it was still unclear whether Congress and the administration would be able to come to an agreement about many disputed elements of the federal budget. Sources within the Senate democratic leadership indicated that there may well be another Continuing Resolution passed when the current one expires on March 15th. The long running stand-off is about whether budget cuts proposed by Republicans (which have their most serious impacts on women, children, and the elderly) will be accepted by the President and Congressional democrats. Although negotiations have been proceeding over the past few months and some budgetary cuts have been modified, the overall consequences of the proposed spending reductions are disturbing.
NOW has itemized the cuts that disproportionately affect women:
Medicare - $270 billion - 58% of Medicare recipients are women.
This vital health care program serves 36.3 million seniors and people with disabilities. Seventy billion dollars in cuts would come from seniors paying higher premiums and deductibles. Two-thirds (65%) of Medicare beneficiaries with incomes below the poverty line are women. These cuts will threaten the health of already vulnerable women and, when combined with Medicaid cuts, may force hospital closings or curtailment of medical services.
Medicaid - $163.4 billion - 85% of Medicaid recipients are women and children.
The safety net program provides health care for the poorest Americans, including a quarter of our nation's children. Millions of children, elderly, and people with disabilities will lose coverage. These cuts will decrease women's access to critical preventive services such as prenatal care, Pap smears, and mammograms. States will be unable to provide health services for home care patients and nursing home residents. Seventy-five percent of nursing home residents are women and half of all nursing homes costs are now paid by Medicaid. The budget proposal includes a permanent ban on using Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of a woman. This ban deprives low-income women of the ability to receive critical reproductive health care services.
Welfare programs - $82 billion - 97% of AFDC recipients are women and children.
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) is a cash assistance program serving almost 15 million people. Typically, the total income (vouchers and cash) of a mother and two children receiving AFDC and food stamps is $661 per month --only 2/3 of the poverty line! Women head over 85% of the 10.5 million single-parent families and almost half of families headed by single mothers are poor, partly because women earn 70% of what men earn. Only families with children qualify for AFDC --and 2/3 of all AFDC recipients are children. The cuts could eliminate assistance for as many as 3.3 million children if the states adopt draconian paternity-establishment provisions. In addition, up to 70,000 children could be denied AFDC simply because they were born to unmarried mothers under 18 if the states choose to implement this provision. The cuts also eliminate the JOBS program, which provides education, training, and work programs for parents receiving AFDC. Ninety percent of the people in the JOBS program are women. The welfare conference agreement eliminated the provision which would have exempted battered women from the work requirement (in the version vetoed in January by the President) if their safety would be jeopardized. The safety net is especially important for domestic violence victims because they often suffer from homelessness and poverty; some local studies have shown up to 80% of women on public assistance suffer from domestic violence.
Earned Income Tax Credits - $32.5 billion budget impact - 75% of recipients are women.
The EITC helps low-income working moms pay for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter and keeps them from going back on welfare. This reduction increases taxes on millions of low- and moderate-income working families -- primarily families with children.
Food Stamps - $33 billion cut - 85% of Food Stamp recipients are women and children.
The program provides impoverished children and working poor women and families with vouchers to buy food. Food Stamps ensure that 26 million vulnerable Americans won't go hungry. This cut denies benefits to tens of thousands of legal immigrants and disabled children.
Supplemental Security Income - $20.2 billion - 68% of funds go to women and children.
Almost 2/3 of disabled children currently eligible for Supplemental Security Income would be denied or receive reduced benefits along with 300,000 low-income children.
Student Loan programs - $4.9 billion cut - 56% go to women.
Poor and middle class families rely most heavily on these loans.
Child Nutrition programs $5.2 billion - 100% go to women and children.
Programs affected include school breakfast and lunch; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC -a good supplement program for pregnant and lactating women, in addition to infants and children) and meals for child care and summer programs.
Public Housing funds - $3 billion - 84% go to women and children.
The median annual income of the families that receive these funds is only $6,800.
Energy Assistance funds - $1.3 billion - 75% goes to women and children.
This program helps 5 to 6 million low-income families with home heating and cooling bills.
Homeless Assistance - $44 million - 39% goes to women and children.
This drastic 40% cut will deny assistance to more than 16,000 homeless children. Almost half of the women in homeless shelters are fleeing domestic violence. Women head almost 60% of the families that pay over 50% of their income in rent; funding for assistance to these families is being eliminated.
Urban Transportation funds - $310 million - 50%+ riders are women and children.
This 47% cut in operating assistance likely means increased fares and decreased services for poor women who depend upon public transportation.
Legal Services - $137 million cut - 50%+ services are used by women.
This program provides essential legal services to poor women and their families to help them escape domestic violence, avoid eviction, and collect subsistence benefits. Over 71% of the legal needs of the poor are currently unmet; proposed budget reductions will devastate legal services programs.
Head Start - $137 million cut - 100% help children.
This cut denies this crucial program to 180,000 children nationwide; only one in four children who need Head Start is currently served.
Violence Against Women programs - $22 million - 100% of funds help women.
The Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill reduces Violence Against Women Act funding for shelters and sexual assault programs, where funds are desperately needed to increase the safety of women and children.
Women's Educational Equity Act - $4 million cut - 100% helps girls and women.
Pending legislation eliminates this program to help schools implement non-discriminatory practices and curricula.
Write, call, fax or e-mail your members of Congress to let them know that budget cuts which severely impact the most vulnerable members of society are not acceptable. Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor is not a moral public policy. All members of Congress, including liberal and progressive members usually friendly to women's issues, need to hear from their constituents on budget priorities and spending cuts. The pressure to scale back social programs is tremendous and, as is usually the case, those who stand to be hurt are the ones least able to influence government policies. The President needs to hear from women, especially, to reinforce his determination to keep important parts of the safety net in place for poor women and children.
NOTE: Anti-choice riders have been previously attached to appropriations measures. These include prohibiting women in the military overseas from obtaining an abortion in a military hospital even with their own money, prohibiting federal employees from choosing a health plan that provides abortion services; and permanently denying Medicaid-funded abortions for low-income women. Efforts will be made by pro-choice members of Congress to strip these measures from the upcoming Continuing Resolution and calls to Congress supporting these actions should be made as soon as possible.
This Legislative Update was compiled by the Government Relations/Public Policy Team at the National NOW office. Call Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director and GR/PP Team Liaison, at (202) 628-8669, ex. 705, if you have any questions. For copies of any of the above bills, call your Senator or Representative at (202) 224-3121, who will send you copies free of charge. The update is mailed monthly to NOW leadership and to the NOW action e-mail list. Any member can get the update for a yearly charge of $25.