An increase in funding for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission for $33 million above their FY 96 level of $233 million is in serious jeopardy. This threat comes at a time when the commission may be pressing its largest sexual harassment and race and sex discrimination case ever at the Mitsubishi auto manufacturing plant in Normal, IL and also when there has been a significant increase in the number of sexual harassment cases. Republican leaders in Congress are, reportedly, planning to drastically cut the agency's budget for FY 97, even though the administration has requested the increase in funding. Congressional budget leaders say that funds must instead be allocated to the Justice Department's expanded border enforcement effort.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) filed a massive lawsuit earlier this year alleging pervasive sexual harassment at the plant. In addition to the federal harassment suit, 29 women have filed a private civil suit against Mitsubishi in an effort to remedy the hostile work environment at the plant and to recover damages for the physical and emotional abuse they suffered. African American employees at the plant have also filed complaints of racial harassment and discrimination. A racial discrimination lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges that African American employees at the plan have been denied training opportunities. Employees have also testified that they were subjected to racial slurs and harassment and in private interviews have revealed threats of retaliation.
Cong. Patricia Schroeder (D-Co) is leading efforts in Congress and NOW is leading efforts "on the ground" to put pressure on the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America for their response to charges of sexual and racial harassment made by scores of employees at their Normal, IL plant.
Contact your Representative and Senators to urge that they fund the increase in the EEOC's budget so that it can adequately handle the Mitsubishi case and increased sexual harassment caseload. If any member of your delegation is on an appropriations committee, it is especially important to get word to him or her as soon as possible.
While no date has been set for a full committee mark-up of the Dole/Canady bill repealing affirmative action programs and allowing sex discrimination, House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said that a floor vote will occur sometime this summer. Opponents need to recruit 25 to 30 additional votes against this bill in the House; movement in the Senate will occur whenever retiring Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) gives a nod from the presidential campaign trail.
Call your Representative and ask him or her where they stand on H.R. 2128. Utilize the Fourth of July holiday to meet or call your Senators when they are back in your state and let them know that women will not support members who vote for a bill which makes sex discrimination legal.
Funding for the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau was cut by 7% in the FY 96 budget. Bureau supporters argue that the annual amount of $7,743,000 is insufficient for carrying out the agency's many programs. Established in 1920, the bureau addresses such issues of pay equity, dependent care, workplace rights, older women's employment, and nontraditional employment. Noting that women constitute 46% of the labor force, program advocates believe that an annual budget of $10 million is more adequate to meet multiple program needs. The National Organization for Women, with other groups, sent a letter to members of the House and Senate Labor/HHS/Appropriations committees asking for the increase.
Contact members of your Congressional delegation to ask for their vote in support of increased funding for the Women's Bureau.
Conservatives in Congress have vowed to pass by September the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)(H.R. 3396, S. 1740) which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and stipulates that states do not have to recognize same-gender marriages which may be legalized in other states. Introduced on May 7th by Republican Representatives Steve Largent (OK), Bob Barr (GA), with 89 co-sponsors and in the Senate on May 8 by Don Nickles (OK), with co-sponsors Bob Dole (KS), Dan Coats (IN), Lauch Faircloth (NC), James Inhofe (OK), Trent Lott (MS), Mitch McConnell (KY), Rick Santorum (PA), Richard Shelby (AL),Robert C. Smith (NH), Strom Thurmond (SC) --all Republicans. President Clinton has said he will sign the Defense Marriage Act, so the bill is expected to sail through both houses.
The measure was passed in late May by Rep. Charles T. Canady's House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and a full committee hearing was set for June 11th. A request by the National Organization for Women to testify at the House subcommittee hearing was ignored; NOW staff members who attempted to attend the hearing by appearing an hour early could not find seating in the packed hearing room. (Many hearings on legislation backed by the Far Right leadership in Congress are packed well in advance of the scheduled time, so that representatives from organizations with differing views or other members of the public can not be present.)
The apparent impetus for such legislation is the pending court decision in Hawaii that will possibly legalize same-gender marriage. The U.S. Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause compels states to recognize each others' licenses and records. In an effort to circumvent that requirement, Far Right groups in 35 states have introduced anti-same gender marriage legislation, with ll of those states enacting prohibitions. Lesbian and gay groups assert that DOMA, if passed, would be a clear violation of that provision and could be declared unconstitutional.
The Far Right has mounted a well financed public relations campaign with newspaper ads showing a traditional couple on a wedding cake proclaiming "Let's Save Marriage before the Whole Cake Crumbles." Proponents with the conservative Family Research Council argue that if such protection of male-female marriages is not established, then a "domino effect will totally redefine families within law and culture."
This is an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into marriage laws, an area traditionally under the authority of states. Critics also assert that it is unnecessary; or, at least, premature. Same gender marriage is not legal in any state, currently, and the Hawaii case is not likely to be decided for two or more years. Of 35 states that have reviewed anti-same gender marriage legislation, 19 have chosen not to go forward.
The Senate will be taking up the measure later in June when lesbian and gay groups will attempt to have the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) attached to DOMA, which prohibits discrimination against lesbians and gays in employment. ENDA (S.932, H.R.1863) was introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and has 30 sponsors in the upper body. Sen. Kennedy, reportedly, will offer ENDA as a floor amendment to the anti-same gender marriage bill. DOMA opponents note that polls have been rising in support of same- gender marriage with nearly half the country now in support, while 84% of the public opposes discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the workplace, according to a Newsweek survey.
Contact your member of the House and your Senators to let them know that DOMA is discriminatory and divisive. Focus, especially, should be on the Senate where as many as 30 votes against this measure might be mustered given constituent pressure. Advocate strongly with your Senators to vote for amending DOMA with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; a floor vote in the Senate is anticipated in July.
A resolution addressing the need to maintain the economic escape route from domestic violence that welfare programs offer to battered women will soon be filed in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Spearheaded by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the bipartisan resolution urges that any reform of welfare programs take into account the special needs of victims of domestic violence, emphasizing that programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and low income housing are often the only way out for poor women and children.
Co-sponsors with Roybal-Allard in the House are Representatives Connie Morella (R-MD), Robert Matsui (D-CA) Nita Lowey (D-Lowey), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Sue Myrick (R-NC), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Senate Concurrent Resolution 57 is sponsored by Senators Paul Wellstone (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Patty Murray (D-WA).
Noting that "over one million crimes against women are committed annually by domestic partners and...that violence is often intensified as women seek to gain independence through attending school or enrolling in job training programs," the resolution concludes that protecting women in welfare to work programs is critically important. The resolution expresses the sense of the Senate and the House that "no welfare reform provision should be enacted by Congress until and until such welfare reform provisions would exacerbate violence against women and their children."
The legislation is an outcome of a May 1st press conference in the Capitol co-sponsored by Rep. Roybal-Allard, the National Organization for Women, and NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, with a dozen social service, religious, women's rights organizations participating. The occasion of the press conference was to release a report prepared by the Taylor Institute, of Chicago, on the high incidence of domestic violence among recipients of public assistance. Entitled "Prisoners of Abuse: Domestic Violence and Welfare Receipt," it documents that, on average, between 50% to 60% of participants interviewed in public assistance programs in 20 states report past or current experiences of domestic violence.
For instance, the Taylor Institute report, authored by Jody Raphael, reported that in 1996 statistics from Passaic County Board of Social Services in New Jersey, gathered through confidential questionnaires filled out by 100 participants in a welfare-to-work program, 57% are currently experiencing physical or psychological abuse. Case examples are cited of various forms of sabotage by male partners of women seeking to obtain further education or employment, and the report concludes that fast tracking women from welfare to work could result in increased violence.
Present at the press conference were three survivors of domestic violence, Kathleen from a northeastern state, Monique from the District of Columbia, and Kate Engle from the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia. All gave personal accounts of the importance of the social safety net that welfare provided them in their efforts to become independent from abusers.
Senators Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) were present at the press conference, along with Representatives Connie Morella (R-MD), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Eva Clayton (D-NC), Robert Matsui (D-CA), Elizabeth Furse (D-OR), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
Experts, including NOW LDEF's Martha Davis and Wider Opportunities for Women's Dr. Diana Pearce called for such protections as access to safe shelter, counseling, and workplace safety along with transitional support services for poor women and children attempting to escape from violence.
The House Budget Committee passed the FY 97 budget resolution days later with a unanimous resolution adopted urging that any welfare reform proposal passed by Congress address the special needs of survivors of domestic violence. Rep. Roybal-Allard led the effort to have the resolution incorporated in the spending measure, while Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) spoke strongly in favor of its inclusion. Amendments to the new welfare reform bill are being prepared.
In other news, oversight hearings for the Violence Against Women Act were held May 15th by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) presiding. Much favorable commentary was made by committee members from both sides of the aisle, and Attorney General Janet Reno testified about Department of Justice implementation of the act. Denise Brown, sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, spoke in favor of programs to stop domestic violence, admitting that she did not realize, initially, that her sister was a victim of battering.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) in his role as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education conducted hearings on May 6th in Philadelphia on women's health, including domestic violence.
The White House reports that during the first 12 weeks of operation for the National 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) 21,000 callers received immediate crisis intervention, counseling, and referrals to local source of help. The hotline was established as part of the Violence Against Women Act.
Co-sponsors of the resolution, especially Rep. Roybal-Allard and Sen. Wellstone should be thanked for their tireless efforts to fight domestic violence. Senators. Specter and Hatch should be thanked for their continuing efforts to secure full funding of VAWA and for keeping the issue of domestic violence in the public eye. Other members of Congress should be urged to sign on as co-sponsors and reminded, as they revise welfare programs, to care for the needs of women and children who experience family violence. Specifically direct them to support amendments to welfare reform legislation that will be offered.
Special Note: Presumptive presidential nominee and retiring Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) attempted to ride the wave of general public and Congressional support of anti-domestic violence legislation and spoke about his views at a meeting of program advocates in Chicago on May 30th. According to press accounts, Sen. Dole suggested that welfare recipients were the principal victims of domestic violence, but was cut short by Berta Hinojosa who runs a neighborhood center on family violence. Ms. Hinojosa correctly observed that domestic violence crosses all socio-economic lines and chastised the Senator for suggesting such a thing.
Current law prohibits convicted felons from buying guns, but acts of domestic violence are usually prosecuted as misdemeanors. The Violence Against Women Act prevents anyone who is subject to a restraining order for domestic abuse from buying or receiving a gun; however, many abusers slip through that net when their victims may not have obtained an order.
Senator Lautenberg cites a 1992 study reported in the Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA) which documented that "domestic assaults involving firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than domestic assaults involving knives, physical force or other means." Another study found that, in 1994, nearly 30 percent of the 4,739 women who were murdered in one year were slain by their husbands and boyfriends, while 57% of children under 12 are who were murdered were killed by a parent (and 4 out of 5 of those victims have been previously abused). Seven out of ten murders were committed with firearms in 1994. The Violence Policy Center notes that "the presence of a firearm in the home may be a key factor in the escalation of nonfatal spouse abuse to homicide."
Call, write, fax, or e-mail your Senator and urge him/her to co-sponsor and work for passage of this important measure. Tragic stories appearing almost weekly in the news indicate the critical importance of plugging this gap in the law; as Sen. Lautenberg says, "the bottom line is that batterers should not have access to guns."
The bipartisan Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) has made a preliminary recommendation that Congress repeal the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for state and local government employees. There are 16 million state and local government of employees -- 9 million of whom are women. The ACIR urged the repeal because "leave policies of state or local governments should be determined solely by the employment policies of these governments," the draft report indicated.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows individuals who work for employers with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to stay home with a new baby, sick parent, child or spouse or to recover from their own serious illness. Between one and two million American employees use the FMLA and the cost impact on employers have been very minor, according to research conducted by a Congressionally-mandated review by the Family Leave Commission.
Advocates for FMLA point out that employees who need to stay home for long period of time to care for a family member suffer earning losses and risk losing their jobs and health insurance. Women workers suffered annual earning losses of $607 million due to lack of parental leave before FMLA, and provisions of the act should be strengthened, not watered down.
The ACIR report also called for the gutting of 13 other federal mandates which they said are "troublesome" to state and local governments. These programs are the Clean Water Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Air Act, and Davis-Bacon Amendments. Those recommended for repeal as they apply to state and local governments are the Fair Labor Standards Act., Family and Medical Leave Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act., Boren Amendment to Medicaid (which says states should be able to negotiate reimbursement rates with providers without federal preconditions), drug and alcohol testing of commercial drivers, and others. The final recommendations from the agency, whose own existence is in question due to lack of Congressional support for funding, is to be issued soon.
Let your member of Congress know that the Family and Medical Leave Act should not only be left intact, applying to state and local government employees, but should be strengthened to apply to more employers.
It looked for awhile like the 104th Congress would be able to pass a significant health insurance reform bill aimed at prohibiting denial of insurance due to pre-existing conditions and allowing employees to "carry" their health insurance plans from one job to another or for an extended period of unemployment. The Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Reform Act (S. 1028) was approved unanimously by the Senate on April 24th. An incremental step forward, the bill applies to all employer-sponsored group health plans.
Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) offered an amendment that prohibits insurers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, which was unanimously adopted along with a resolution offered as an amendment by Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL) expressing the sense of the Senate that all pregnant women and their children should be guaranteed health insurance. Additionally included are provisions which would disallow denial of coverage based on genetic screening, or for coverage of newborns with serious medical problems, tax deductibility for long term care costs, and broader coverage for those with neurobiological disorders.
The legislation has stalled as of early June due to the controversy over Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), coverage of mental health services, and other issues. President Clinton has expressed his opposition to MSAs which allow for individuals and families to deposit tax free savings of up to $4,000 per year to be used for medical expenses, increasing the insurance burden on poorer families and spending tax dollars on people who are well-off enough to deposit such sums. Also, Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-VT) has proposed language for the Senate conference report that would allow small businesses to pool coverage for employees, letting insurers bypass state-mandated health insurance coverage for services such as mammographies, pap smears, and other vital screening tests.
That health insurance reform is seriously needed by Americans is not questioned. The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated that the Health Insurance Reform act would help at least 25 million Americans each year. An estimated 43 million Americans were without health insurance coverage for some period of time in 1995 and another estimated 81 million Americans suffer from some type of pre-existing medical condition that often makes it difficult for them to obtain coverage if they change jobs. However, critics noted that S. 1028 will not help women who work in jobs that do not provide health insurance -- most likely a substantial portion of the 43 million uncovered workers.
According to a bill summary prepared by Sen. Kassebaum's office, the most important elements of this legislation are as follows:
The House equivalent, the Health Coverage Availability & Affordability Act (H.R. 3103), which passed by a vote of 267 to 151 on March 28th, differs significantly in various provisions from the Senate bill. Observers are predicting a difficult conference committee process to work out the differences and to overcome the President's threatened veto over Medical Savings Accounts. Additionally, presidential politics is playing a role with Kansas Republican Senator Bob Dole wanting to take credit for passage of a major health care bill during his tenure as majority leader, pointing up the failure of President Clinton and the former Democratic majority in Congress to enact reforms.
Contact your Senators and Representative and let them know that you do not want to see any provision adopted which would reduce coverage of services for women and place a disproportionate burden for the cost of insurance on the non-wealthy. Health insurance reform is needed and is a positive step in the direction of universal health care.
The Ryan White Care Act was re-authorized in May and contained a compromise provision which promotes volunteer counseling, testing, and treatment for pregnant women and the testing of newborns for HIV. House conferees had previously insisted on mandatory testing of pregnant women; women's rights groups had opposed this as an invasion of privacy. But Senate conferees and the administration prevailed in imposing the Centers for Communicable Diseases Control's recommended policy. According to the compromise language, testing of newborns for HIV will not be required if states have reduced the number of infected infants by 2000.
In a series of fast moving votes which surprised many, the Senate approved S. 1477,"a bill to amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Public Health Service act to facilitate the development and approval of new drugs and biological products " in late April. Sponsored by Labor and Human Resource Committee Chair Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), the bill would eliminate or restrict many requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review and approval process for drugs and medical devices. The measure had strong support from industry which has applied intense pressure on members of Congress for passage of the so-called reform bill.
But consumer and women's health organizations have allied to oppose the legislation on grounds that nothing in the bill improves the health and safety of the U.S. health-consuming public. They remind others of the many experiences with dangerous drugs or devices which have had disproportionate impacts on women, such DES (a drug which has caused reproductive tract defects in female offspring), Dalkon Shield, silicon gel breast implants, Thalidomide (which caused thousands of serious limb defects in children born to mothers who had taken the German-approved drug), and others.
Among the many criticisms of the S.1477 (and its House counterparts) made by patient and consumer groups are the following:
A conference report from the Senate should be issued shortly, while the House is scheduling a Commerce Committee mark-up for June 20th and is currently re-drafting the legislation as three bills -- each covering food, drugs, and devices (H.R. 3199, 3200, and 3201). The revised House bills will to be available by mid-June and a floor vote is expected to occur in July.
In the Senate, contact Senators Harkin (IA), Dodd (CT), Mikulski (MD), Wellstone (MN), Daschle (SD), Rockefeller (WV), J. Kerry (MA), B. Kerrey (NE), Ford (KY), Dorgan (ND), Reid (NV), Breaux (LA), Wyden (OR), Cohen (ME), Jeffords (VT), and Chafee (RI) to let them know that this reform does not adequately protect health consumers. All members of the House should be contacted with the same message; detailed analyses and talking points are available from the NOW Action Center Government Relations office.
Again, efforts were made in the House by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jane Harman (D-CA), and Mike Ward (D-KY), and Peter Torkildsen (R-MA) to reverse the Department of Defense spending act provision that denies privately funded abortion services at military facilities overseas except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. The mid-May vote was 192-225 and one in a long string of losses on this measure.
The FY 97 Foreign Aid Appropriations bill will be debated on the floor of the House the second week of June with additional restrictions posed for U.S. assistance in international family planning and population assistance programs. A complicated formula further restricting funding for international family planning/population assistance programs was adopted, along with an imposition of the "Mexico City Policy," an abortion prohibition. Promoted by Alabama Representative Sonny Callahan, the new language would require that population assistance programs be funded at 65% of the FY 95 levels and paid out on a monthly basis. Programs which did not adhere to the Mexico City language would be eligible for 50% of their FY 95 level funding (which is only funded at 65%). Groups which sign a Mexico City policy statement could receive 100% of the FY funding.
Various efforts to attach amendments to make policies less restrictive were defeated.
On a more positive note, the Senate was not expected to include any of these types of funding or policy restrictions in its FY 97 foreign aid authorizations. However, it is not clear whether the Senate or House would prevail in the conference committee.
Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Livingston (R-LA) and Representative Ernest Istook (R-OK) were planning to offer amendments to the FY 97 Authorization bill greatly restricting Title X family planning programs. Rep. Istook was expected to offer an amendment denying Title X funded services to teen-agers without parental consent or notification, although the exact scope of the restriction was not known as of this writing.
In addition, Chairman Livingston was reportedly planning to offer an amendment that would "means test" Title X funds to limit services to patients with incomes no great than 150% of the federal poverty level. A previous version of this amendment held that teens would have to include their parents' income in that calculation, thus many teens would not be eligible. Current eligibility determinations allow individuals with income below 100% of the federal poverty level to receive these services at no charge. Others with slightly higher incomes pay on a sliding scale basis. Other restrictive amendments were expected; a floor vote is scheduled to occur before the Fourth of July holiday.
No word yet on when the House override vote will take place on President Clinton's veto of the late term abortion bill (H.R. 1833), but close observers believe that it may not occur until close to the November elections. Anti-abortion groups are running highly emotional and misleading ad campaigns in districts where House members who voted against the ban are running for re-election. No one doubts that this will be a tight vote and there is a chance that veto may be overridden. Representatives with otherwise strong abortion rights voting records, feeling the intense pressure, have indicated that they might vote to override. Very little advance notice may be made for the scheduled vote as Republican leaders have often sought to limit the activities of opponents on such issues.
Meetings with selected Representatives by NOW activists and abortion rights supporters should be scheduled for the July Fourth holiday. At least five additional votes to sustain the veto are needed and members with good voting records on abortion rights need to be assured that women will support them in their re-election efforts. On all other abortion and family planning measures, NOW activists should immediately call, fax, or e-mail members of their Congressional delegation with their opposition to any restrictive amendments.
As noted in the April 5th NOW Legislative Update, the $4 million needed for the Women's Educational Equity Act and Title IV programs had a slim chance of being restored to the FY 96 budget bill. Unfortunately, that amount did not get included in the final version, some hope remained for funding out of the Secretary of Education's contingency allocations.
The FY 97 budget for the Department of Education was scheduled for mark-up in mid-June by the House Labor/HHS/Education Subcommittee, with strong indication that Women's Educational Equity Act and Title IV programs would be targeted for deletion because they were "worthless," according to some Republican staff members.
Women's groups are urging the Secretary of Education Richard Riley to fund WEAA and Title IV for the current fiscal year out of his discretionary funds. Since President Clinton has requested these funds for FY 97, NOW members are urged to let their Senators and Representatives know that they want these funds put into next year's budget.
NOTE: An analysis of the FY 97 Budget bill, along with reports on the Republican welfare bill, and proposed changes to the Medicaid and Medicare programs, with their special impacts on women will be included in an upcoming special Legislative Update.
This Legislative Update was compiled by the Government Relations/Public Policy Team at the National NOW office. Call Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director, at (202) 628-8669, ex. 725, if you have any questions. The update is mailed monthly to NOW leadership. Any member can get a copy of this update mailed to them for a yearly charge of $25.