Want to See Action on Women’s Issues? Check Out Your Statehouse!
In 2016, AAUW members were busy at every level of government passing good laws, beating back bad ones, and laying the groundwork for more successes in 2017. Across the country, state legislatures were particularly inclined to work on economics and public finance, health, crime and law enforcement, education, and commerce. Let’s take a look back at the year in statehouses across the country and find out how AAUW public policy priorities fared.
Most states weighed in on education during the 2016 session in some form. On the K–12 side, legislators paid particular attention to accountability, assessments, bullying and harassment, funding, charter schools and voucher systems, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). With regard to vouchers, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, and Wisconsin all enacted bills expanding their voucher school systems, while Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) vetoed a voucher bill in Virginia. To promote STEM education, 12 states instituted new policies. These policies range from counting computer science toward graduation to adopting new computer science standards to creating additional resources and trainings that foster more students’ participation. While all of these initiatives are important, AAUW will be watching to make sure more is done to target resources for girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM.
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When it comes to higher education, many states focused on relieving student debt, funding higher education, and reducing sexual assault and violence on campus. During the 2016 legislative session, 22 states introduced bills addressing campus sexual assault, and six states passed their bills — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Missouri, and Virginia. While these bills addressed a range of issues, most touched on the definition of affirmative consent or the role of local law enforcement. On the financial side, states generally saw funding decreases and tuition increases over the past year. But those constraints fueled the national conversation about student debt. New bills in 18 states addressed student borrowers’ bills of rights, residency requirements, and loan forgiveness programs.
States saw a tidal wave of equal pay bills in 2016. In 2015, approximately 29 states introduced equal pay bills, but that number jumped to 36 this year. Of those 36, six states — California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Utah — succeeded in passing bills. Notably, these are blue, red, and purple states, showing that equal pay is an issue whose time has come. The increasingly fervent conversation about equal pay has also prompted action at the local level, spurring cities to act and prompting employers to voluntarily begin to examine their own practices.
Similarly, we’re seeing the most action at the local level when it comes to earned sick and paid family leave legislation. Vermont was the only state that passed a new earned sick days law in 2016, but seven municipalities also passed ordinances. New York was the only state to add a paid family leave law to the books this year. However, many other states are clearly considering the issue, as 22 states introduced bills on the subject.
This year will mark the first presidential election since the decision in Shelby County v. Holder, when the U.S. Supreme Court severely undercut the Voting Rights Act. Following the decision, 14 states put greater restrictions on voting. Claiming concern over potential voter fraud, these states passed laws which undoubtedly will result in fewer eligible voters casting ballots in critical elections. Notably, six of those 14 states were formerly covered by the Voting Rights Act and would have been subject to preclearance (approval) before their legislation could have been implemented. Several of these laws, and others passed in the last few years, are undergoing legal challenges. This leaves many voters in limbo and may cause confusion on Election Day.
AAUW’s State Policy Program won a silver award at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) 2016 Power of A Awards. The Power of A Awards are the highest industry recognition that an association’s program can receive from ASAE.
In the last few years, states have enacted an unprecedented number of restrictions on women’s health. The trend continued in 2016. A majority of states sought to restrict or completely ban abortions. Other attacks included attempts to restrict eligibility to access family planning services, the enactment of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, bans on fetal tissue donation or research, funding for crisis pregnancy centers, and requiring doctors to provide medically inaccurate counseling. Many of these bills were defeated, but at least 17 states managed to enact restrictions on women’s health. On the flip side, Maryland and Vermont sought to expand contraceptive coverage.
While most states have concluded their legislative sessions for the year, every state’s legislature will meet in 2017. Most get back to work in January, but Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma residents will have to wait until February or March for their elected representatives to commence their legislative sessions. Many of these representatives will face elections on November 8, 2016. Make sure they know which issues matter to you and that you’ll be watching on Election Day and beyond. Your vote is your voice; make it heard at the ballot box!
AAUW Members in Action
From K–12 to higher education, resources and data play a vital role in ensuring that women and girls receive high-quality education. To that end, AAUW members have launched two different campaigns. The first seeks to put resources and U.S. Department of Education guidance in the hands of all Title IX coordinators. The second calls attention to bullying and harassment based on sex in schools: AAUW members are calling on their elected officials to take action and make sure all reporting is accurate.
Until a federal law like the Paycheck Fairness Act is passed, each state will continue operating under antiquated regulations and piecemeal state and local laws to combat unequal pay.
Ready to take action? First, make sure the state legislation you’re working on aligns with AAUW’s public policy priorities.
Stay in the know about state policy from across the country, tips and resources for more effective advocacy, and insider information about good and bad bills in the states.