In the year of #MeToo and Time’s Up, what was the General Assembly’s record addressing policy issues that impact women and girls disproportionately? Similar to last year, the results were a mix of wins, losses, and missed opportunities:
Domestic violence: The new “dominant aggressor” statute guides police officers responding to a domestic violence call and requires police to only arrest the party who poses the most serious ongoing threat based on a series of factors set forth in the statute. The law is designed to lower the state’s high dual arrest rate, which occurs when both the aggressor and the victim are arrested, re-victimizing the victim and discouraging victims from calling the police. Connecticut’s dual arrest rate stands at more than twice the national average, and 27 other states have enacted similar legislation.
Healthcare and contraception: The General Assembly codified into Connecticut law a group of essential benefits available under the Affordable Care Act. These benefits include: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; maternity and newborn health care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care. In addition, the law allows for a one-year prescription for birth control without co-pays.
Paid family medical leave: For the fourth year in a row, a paid or earned family medical leave bill was introduced, with the Senate introducing SB 1 and the House introducing HB 5387. HB 5387 passed both the Finance and Labor Committees, but was never called for a vote in the House. This employee-funded insurance system would cover a portion of an employee’s wages during a legally protected leave. Available in other states, paid FML seeks to promote employment stability and economic security for such employees, who are disproportionately women. State start-up costs of approximately $13 million would be paid back by future premiums or the program could be outsourced. A poll of 243 small businesses by BLS Consulting of East Haven showed 77 percent of these businesses support paid FML.
Pay equity and pay equality: The General Assembly addressed a missed opportunity from last year when the most important provision of the 2017 pay equity bill concerning pay history was stripped out of the bill.
This year, the General Assembly passed a pay equity bill that prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about wage history. This new law is a powerful tool in combating the long-term pay disparities that follow women from job to job. Pay equality—equal pay for the same or substantially similar work—was examined by a bipartisan group of legislators early in the session, but no bill was ever introduced.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that women’s earnings in Connecticut would increase by $6.9 billion per year if women earned equal pay.
Sexual assault and sexua harassment: A group of bills were introduced during the 2018 session in both the House and the Senate dealing with these critical issues for women and girls. Several bills sought to lengthen or eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault, which is five years except in the most egregious cases, and one of the shortest statutes of limitation in the country. These bills addressed the fact that it can take many years for a victim to process the trauma of assault and take legal action.
In addition, several bills sought to strengthen the state’s laws around workplace sexual harassment by requiring more companies to provide training and requiring training for more employees. No legislation was passed on either sexual assault or workplace harassment, however.
Finally, the General Assembly’s Legislative Management Committee held a hearing to review workplace harassment in the Capitol complex, where the lack of official complaints was largely attributed to the fear of job loss and the less than supportive environment for victims to come forward. While Congress strengthened its own processes for workplace harassment this year, no bills were passed by the Connecticut General Assembly to address this issue.
Mary Lee A. Kiernan is the President & CEO of YWCA Greenwich.