House Democrats are making a final push for a measure designed to close the general pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women.
The measure expands family leave and provides accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees. It would expand access to affordable childcare and take several steps to reduce the gender pay gap, like 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.
Democratic leaders say the “Women’s Economic Security Act” would be one of their most significant achievements of the legislative session, and a step that would add lasting improvement to the state’s economy.
“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 is expected to pass the measure Wednesday, and could be on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk in coming weeks. The governor is expected to sign the proposal.
Supporters held a rally on the Capitol steps before the vote Wednesday morning, surrounded by Thissen and dozens of legislators and supporters.
“The bill we’re voting on today is about strengthening working families – because when women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities and a brighter future for our state,” said Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing DFLer who has been a chief backer of the measure.
Democrats have tried to work closely with the business community to resolve any 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 remained stubbornly persistent for a decade.
Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the gender 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.
Once signed into law, Thissen said, “I think it is going to make Minnesota a nation leader on these issues.