House DFLers are making a final push for a measure designed to close the general pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women in Minnesota.
The measure expands family leave and provides accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees. It would expand access to affordable child care and take several steps to reduce the gender pay gap, such as better enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors. The proposal also attempts to offset financial consequences for victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
“In 2014, we shouldn’t be in a position where women are making less and have different economic opportunities than men,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “This should be important to all Minnesotans because when women do better, families do better, and all of us do better.”
The House passed the measure 106-24 on Wednesday, and it could be on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk in weeks. The governor is expected to sign it.
Critics said the measure is potentially troublesome for women.
State Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said it could result in an unforeseen burden for some women, who could find themselves having to file a lawsuit if there’s a problem. “They don’t want to hire a lawyer, they want a remedy,” Anderson said. “Instead of the Legislature giving them relief, it is just going to delay it for them.”
Anderson, who voted in favor of the measure, said she hopes the problems are fixed before final passage.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, did not support the measure because DFLers would not accept Anderson’s proposed changes.
Thissen and other DFL leaders say the Women’s Economic Security Act will be one of the most significant achievements of the legislative session, and a step that will make lasting improvements to the state’s economy.
Minnesota legislators’ movement on the issue comes just as a similar measure has stalled in Congress, despite an intensifying push by President Obama and congressional Democrats. The so-called Paycheck Fairness Act got snagged up in a Senate committee this week when Republicans blocked a vote to open debate on the measure.
Democrats nationally and in Minnesota have been trying hard to reach out to women voters, who made up 53 percent of the electorate in the last election and who overwhelmingly preferred President Obama over GOP rival Mitt Romney. In off-year elections, women voters historically have been more evenly split.
Supporters held a rally on the Capitol steps before the vote Wednesday morning, surrounded by Thissen and dozens of legislators and activists.
DFLers have tried to work closely with the business community to resolve possible objections. The business community has strongly opposed a component of the measure that was stripped out and is expected to pass separately — an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
Advocates say women continue to earn, on average, 80 percent of what men make, a gap that has persisted for a decade.
Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the pay gap robs every Minnesota woman of almost $500,000 over the span of their career.
“That isn’t going to change without a comprehensive, research-based approach like the Women’s Economic Security Act,” she said.
“Please, let’s show all women and the nation that it does not have to be an economic disadvantage to be born a woman,” said Danielle Hans, a Minneapolis resident who spoke at the event.