An Action Agenda for the 110th Congress
There will be many opportunities in this new Congress to advocate for fair policies that will increase women's equality and economic well-being. The legislative and policy initiatives listed here are among those that are on our list — the first two sections identify advances we hope to achieve over the next few years, and the final section identifies actions that should be taken to repair the damage done over the past few years.
The first few "priority" items below are those that we will be working on most actively in the early days of the session, but the others are also important and we will continue to give them our attention. These lists are in no particular priority order, are not exhaustive, and could change depending upon developments over the next two years.
In the final section, we identify a number of the more important actions that need be taken by the 110th Congress to repair the damage done by right wing political leaders to women's rights, reproductive rights, civil rights, educational equality, economic equity and the social safety net. Again, the list is not exhaustive.
Reduce women's poverty: Immediately increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour and include automatic adjustment for inflation. The increase would still leave many families below poverty level; therefore, Congress should soon consider setting the federal wage threshold at a level more in line with its 1968 value, bringing the minimum to more than $9 an hour—thus making it closer to a living wage and moving millions of working women out of poverty.
Add new hate crimes categories: Expand federal hate crimes law to add the protected categories of gender, sexual orientation, disability, and actual or perceived gender identity to current federal criminal law prohibiting violence motivated by prejudice based on actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin of the victim. The legislation should also mandate (under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act) the collection of data about hate crimes based on gender or gender identity, which are categories currently excluded from federal hate crimes statistics.
Promote a family-friendly workplace: Expand and pass the Family and Workplace Balancing Act; apply the Family and Medical Leave (FML) Act to businesses with 15 or more employees; expand paid family and medical leave to cover the employee's own illness, or that of a family member, or the illness, birth or adoption of a child; permit employees to request flexible work schedules; guarantee comparable pay and benefits for part-time and seasonal workers; increase support for quality child care as well as fair wages and training for child care providers; expand facilities and provide grants to states for universal, high quality kindergarten, pre-school and after-school programs as well as improve access and quality in school nutrition programs and other programs.
Expand reproductive health services: Promote universal and unfettered access to contraceptives, family planning and adolescent health services. Support a package of legislation that includes an enhanced Prevention First Act which requires that government funded programs use only science-based, comprehensive education about preventing teen pregnancy. The legislation would: authorize federal grants to states in providing emergency contraception (EC) education for pharmacists, health care professionals and the public; require the federal government to conduct a review of access and availability of non-prescription EC and establish a step-by-step procedure by which adolescents will be able to purchase EC without a prescription; authorize federal funds for public education programs concerning the new cervical cancer (HPV) vaccine for girls and women, ensuring safety, efficacy and affordability; require all hospitals, medical centers, health care providers and pharmacies that receive federal funds or are licensed to sell drugs to include the option of EC in the medical regimen of treating rape survivors and to provide EC upon request.
Approve funds for stem cell research: Adopt the Stem Cell Research and Enhancement Act which would lessen restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cells for federally-funded research. Under current law and administration policy, too few embryonic stem cell lines are eligible for use, drastically limiting the extent of research on the potential treatments of debilitating diseases such as Parkinsonís, Alzheimerís, cancer, and diabetes. Federal policy must protect the health of egg donors while supporting the right of women and their partners to donate frozen and unused embryos for research, rather than disposal, in the hopes of providing opportunities for potentially life-enhancing and life-saving treatment.
Advance fair immigration reform: Support true immigration reform with a fair and comprehensive approach that reflects the social and economic forces affecting the lives of immigrant woman and their families. Such reform should provide a path to citizenship that allows immigrant women to have work permits (as opposed to the current dependent visas that prohibit any work, keeping abused women effectively captive to their abusers) and fair wages with increased support for education, access to health care and social services and protection from exploitation and abuse in the workplace.
Promote peace, provide humanitarian aid: End the U.S. involvement in the Iraq civil war by immediately withdrawing U.S. troops, to be replaced with military forces from other nations for peace-keeping purposes and assistance in re-construction. Oppose further administration requests for "emergency spending" on the war and support reallocating these funds to supporting and rebuilding the lives and communities in our own country. When violence subsides, U.S. funds should be made available for humanitarian aid, with special emphasis on the needs of Iraqi women and children. Investigate no-bid contracts given to suppliers of services and equipment for the war in Iraq. Strengthen protections for women in Afghanistan facing a resurgence of Taliban repression.
Strengthen guarantee of equal rights: Re-introduce legislation to adopt a constitutional equality amendment. Initiate a national dialogue regarding the benefits of an equal rights amendment, and promote Congressional hearings on the intent and applicability of a Constitutional amendment assuring equal protection under the law for women and men.
End the wage gap between men and women in the workplace: Pass legislation that would strengthen and expand laws against sex-based employment discrimination, in particular addressing the problem of job segregation and the wage discrimination in those occupational categories that are occupied primarily by women and people of color. Strengthen the Equal Pay Act to address comparable work issues, improving remedies and enforcement provisions by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. More importantly, adopt the Fair Pay Act that would prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on account of sex, race, or national origin.
Prevent sexual violence: Fully fund and enhance the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Stress prevention efforts and expand grants for education and victim assistance programs that address underserved racial, cultural, religious, disabled and senior communities and that include incest, pedophilia, child sexual assault, dating violence, adult sexual assault and rape in the home, on campus, in the workplace and community. Require sexual assault programs receiving federal VAWA funds to include emergency contraception as part of any medical protocol when treating rape and domestic violence survivors.
Improve women's retirement security: Provide Social Security retirement credits, similar to military service credits, to compensate caregivers for some amount of time out of the paid workforce to care for children or a sick family member or loved one. Lower the number of years that a person must be married (from 10 to 5) before that individual can be eligible for spousal benefits. Recognize domestic partnerships for purposes of retirement and disability benefits. Increase benefits for widows who receive spousal benefits, divorced or never married women, and women with disabilities. Enact a modest payroll tax increase making the payroll tax progressive and remove the cap on taxable income. Oppose any effort to carve out a private investment retirement program under the Social Security program. Review the nation's public and private pension laws and promote fairness and security, backed by federal guarantees, in all forms of retirement savings.
End workplace discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and sexual identity: Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), with the additional protected category of transgender persons and remove religious exemptions. End all discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in the military, including dropping the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
Equal Domestic partner benefits: Authorize a domestic partnership status that would allow domestic partners, regardless of sexual orientation, to receive federal benefits and treatment equal to married couples under the law.
Pass the Freedom of Choice Act: Incorporate in the federal statutes the guarantee of access to abortion services that is expressed in the Roe v. Wade ruling of the Supreme Court and strengthen the health exception.
Universal, affordable health care for all, starting with the poor, low-income and uninsured: Pass legislation, such as the Medicare for All Act, to provide universal health care, covering all medically necessary procedures. In the interim, prior to adoption of a universal health care plan, supplement federal funding to Medicaid to assure that all eligible adults and children have access to health care services.
Affordable Medicare prescription drug plan: Investigate the costs and coverage of seniors' prescription drug expenses and authorize private and group purchases of prescription drugs from Canada. Allow the federal and state governments to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. Cover drug costs that fall under the "donut hole" and address the long term costs through an increased, progressive payroll tax.
International equality, civil and human rights treaties: Ratify important international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), without restrictions, reservations, or declarations that undermine the intent of the treaties. Reform U.S. law and policy to conform with treaty provisions.
Increasing opportunities for women in science: Expand federal government efforts to assist women in the math, science, engineering and information technology fields in order to promote their presence in graduate schools, on faculties, in the labs and research institutions. Additionally, the effort should promote equal pay for women professors, teachers and researchers at institutions receiving federal financial assistance.
Over the past decade of conservative, anti-equal opportunity leadership in Congress and six years of an administration hostile to women's rights, many good laws, programs and policies have been repealed, under-funded and weakened. In the 110th Congress we must endeavor to restore programs and services, rescind deep cuts and defend programs that help women and their children, low income families and people of color have an equal chance.Fully fund human needs budget: Restore funds to vital local, state and national programs that address the needs of hungry children, struggling families, left-behind students, battered women, underserved communities, and those who need public assistance to meet life's challenges. Adopt a comprehensive national policy to eliminate poverty in the U.S. within 10 years.
Help struggling workers: Restore the Fair Labor Standards Act policy that mandated overtime pay for non-exempt workers in certain occupations (restrictive regulations adopted in 2004 excluded millions of non-management and hourly workers from coverage). Additionally, Congress should consider ways to expand Unemployment Insurance coverage for part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers, as well as those leaving jobs to escape violence or provide emergency family care-giving.
Balance the federal judiciary: Restore balance and fairness when approving federal judicial appointments assuring that nominees will protect civil rights and uphold other important protections for women, minorities, workers and consumers.
Real welfare reform: Abandon punitive welfare reform under TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and adopt provisions that will help \families escape poverty permanently. To do that, Congress should: authorize funds necessary to fully support subsidized child care programs for women transitioning to education, job training or employment; reduce the number of hours per week that women must work to continue receiving assistance; increase the number of hours per week of education and job skills training that count as required "work" for continuation of benefits; expand the percentage of women in the program who may be permitted to finish high school and attend a postsecondary institution; expand housing, transportation and nutritional assistance; assure access to health care coverage; and adopt counseling, rehabilitation treatment and federal assistance programs for women who have used illegal substances, particularly for pregnant women. It will be critical for many women that Congress change the Family Violence Option to a mandate (domestic violence screening and assistance programs); eliminate the "family cap" option (which permits states to deny support to infants born into a family on welfare); provide rehabilitation and federal assistance for poor women with substance abuse records; and, end federal funding of marriage promotion programs, which have been proven ineffective in combating poverty.
Restore Tax fairness: Rescind tax giveaways to millionaires and oppose elimination or reduction of the Estate Tax and revamp the tax code to restore progressivity and fairness for middle- and low-income workers. Modify or eliminate "tax cuts" adopted during the past six years that overwhelmingly favor high income earners and large corporations, and have drastically reduced revenues needed for human needs programs and deficit reduction.
Comprehensive sex education and disease prevention: Require that federal agencies and programs supported by federal funds to provide scientific and medically accurate information in all federally- funded abstinence education programs, require these programs to include full array of sex education, contraceptive, abortion and disease prevention and treatment information. Remove priority funding for religious-affiliated groups and mandate accountability for all programs.
Economic security for children: Restore funds to child support enforcement programs so that the billions of dollars owed to families is expeditiously paid; restore funding to aid child abuse and neglect prevention and assistance programs; expand the Child Tax Credit so that it covers all caregivers and make it fully refundable for low-income working families. Fully fund all Head Start programs to meet the need; protect infant and child nutrition programs.
Repeal the Global Gag Rule: Stop the U.S. role in undermining family planning, population assistance and HIV-AIDS programs around the world, ending the harm this policy has brought to millions of people in developing countries. Allow U.S. funds to be sent to non-governmental organizations in developing nations regardless of their policies concerning birth control, condoms or abortion.
Oppose all legislation that erodes women's reproductive rights: Oppose passage of the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act and any other legislation that restricts in any manner access to abortion services and contraceptives—for women of any age. Increase Title X funding for family planning programs and for international family planning/population assistance that adequately responds to need.
End employment sex discrimination: Provide more effective enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace, including sexual harassment, discrimination in hiring and promotion, pregnancy discrimination, and family responsibility discrimination ("maternal profiling"). Increase funding for Departments of Justice, Labor and other agencies concerned with employment discrimination and prohibit outsourcing of employment positions in federal agencies, including those in the Department of Labor Women's Bureau.. Fully fund the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), stop "privatization" of the agency, and better insulate the EEOC from political influence. Legislatively expand protections against retaliation by employers against individuals who file complaints. Fund aggressive enforcement activities that would thoroughly investigate all complaints, initiate reviews of alleged discriminatory practices, heighten use of litigation and focus on "pattern or practice" violations that go beyond individual complaints.
Responsible bankruptcy reform: Modify various provisions of the so-called Bankruptcy Reform and Consumer Protection Act to make a higher priority the collection of debts owed for past due child support. Address the problems the act is causing for individuals who are in financial crisis due to catastrophic illness. Adopt legislation to stop aggressive credit card promotion by companies. Prevent those who practice health clinic violence from dodging court fines by declaring bankruptcy.
Restore class action lawsuits: Reverse provisions of the so-called Class Action Fairness Act that limit the ability of groups to bring class actions in state courts; at minimum, exempt wage-and-hour cases and civil rights cases from application under this regressive law.
Strengthen educational equality: Protect equal education goals of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 from any regulations or policies that would undermine its provisions; adopt an aggressive compliance review schedule for all educational institutions; restore funding and technical assistance to the Title IX coordinator network; and, conduct vigorous enforcement activities, including prompt and thorough investigations of systemic discrimination, adopting sanctions against violators and assisting plaintiffs in Title IX violations litigation—both in the academic and athletic fields. Increase student loan funds, especially those targeted to low-income families.
Limit segregation by gender in public education: Adopt restrictions on education funding if school districts choose to offer schools or classrooms segregated by sex, other than those permitted under the original Title IX law and regulations. Mandate biennial evaluations and stipulate the criteria for evaluations—all to be submitted to the Department of Education and released to the public via internet websites.
Fairness in the media: Restore the Fairness Doctrine for all broadcasters under Federal Communications Commission regulations, and provide an effective enforcement mechanism. Enhance media democracy by requiring public broadcasters to use the public airwaves for the public good, and not only for private profit. Ensure "net neutrality" so that some companies are not permitted to pay extra for preferential treatment.
Reinforce separation of church and state: Investigate and promote reform of all federal programs that have faith-based funding priorities. Reinstate coverage under civil rights laws for religious organizations and entities and require full accountability for recipients of faith-based grants.
Protect healthy families: Restore many of the clean air and water regulations that were weakened or withdrawn over the past six years. Adopt and adequately fund an aggressive effort to diminish toxic materials and by-products, such as mercury, lead, asbestos to name a few, that endanger the health of women and children, particularly in low-income families.
Reform the FDA: Strengthen conflict of interest disclosure and restrict FDA officials, employees and advisory committee members from making decisions about drug and device pre-marketing applications when they would make a financial gain from that decision. Expand the role of FDA in conducting and requiring independent drug and device safety and efficacy data; require disclosure of all company data relative to testing on drugs and devices when companies submit a pre-marketing application for FDA review and approval. Expand authority and provide additional funding for the FDA to more effectively oversee companies' long term monitoring of drugs and devices. Adopt criminal prohibitions against the withholding of any pertinent data relative to a pending pre-marketing application.
Require paper ballots: For all election districts, require that electronic voting machines have a back-up system that will allow the printing of paper ballots. Provide clear and timely guidelines, along with sufficient funds, to enable states to meet requirements for adequate staff and equipment at polling places, among other provisions specified in the Electoral Fairness Act of 2006.
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