The 2015 legislative session saw some some key legislative victories for women and families, but there were also painful defeats, according to lawmakers and advocates.
In the win column are bills like “An Act Concerning Pay Equity and Fairness,” which makes sure employees can’t be retaliated against by their employers for talking about how much they are paid. Women’s rights advocate say the legislation is critical because without it women can’t fight gender-based pay discrimination.
Another victory for women was passage of a bill aimed improving the handling of evidence in sexual assault cases. Also, an initiative pitched by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would make it so a minor engaged in the sex trade is presumed to be a victim of human trafficking rather than a prostitute. The bill passed unanimously on a consent calendar in the Senate on the final day of session.
A bill that defines who is a domestic worker was approved 33-3 by the Senate and 130-14 by the House. It allows the more than 40,000 workers employed as caregivers in private homes to be able to file discrimination complaints if they feel like they’re being exploited.
Another bill requires the Veterans’ Department to reach out to female veterans and make them aware of the services that are available to them. It also requires the state to consider developing programs specifically for female veterans, but it doesn’t include any funding for those purposes.
Also in the win column is a bill that protects interns from sexual harassment and discrimination. It received unanimous support in both chambers. Another bill to strengthen the state’s laws against voyeurism and the sharing of intimate images without the subject’s consent also passed both chambers with unanimous support after some uncomfortable debate.
But in addition to those victories, two key bills to protect women against violence failed to get approved.
A bill that would have required colleges and universities to to adopt a “yes, means yes” policy when it comes to sexual consent and how it is defined during on-campus disciplinary proceedings for students accused of sexual misconduct. The bill passed the Senate with only one lawmaker voting against it, but was never raised in the House.
“This session, it became clear to us that we have a lot of work to do in changing cultural attitudes about violence against women,” Jillian Gilchrest, a senior policy analyst for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said. “The failure of Affirmative Consent was a real blow because, as a state, we had the chance to send nationally an unambiguous message that sexual intimacy should be a shared experience.”
Also, a bill designed to better protect domestic violence victims died without a vote in either chamber. Known around the capitol as the “TRO bill” for “temporary restraining order,” the legislation would have required the subject of an ex-parte restraining order to relinquish any firearms and ammunition within 24 hours of being notified of the order. Opponents say the bill violated their constitutional right to due process.
The bill became the subject of last-minute negotiations between the Democrats, Republicans, and the governor’s office. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said Thursday that her members were concerned about the power to take away someone’s firearm before a hearing. She said she wasn’t going to stop her members from talking about the legislation if it was called for a vote. The Senate called a similar bill, but then ended debate before it could be called for a vote.
Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said the failure of both bills was disappointing because neither had a fiscal impact.
“Both would have dramatically enhanced women’s safety, either on college campuses or in the home,” Treiss said.
And while it was a long shot, lawmakers failed to approve a bill that would have created a trust fund for paid Family and Medical leave.
The bill was added to the House calendar on May 26, but was never called for a vote. The proposal would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid family leave through a state-administered trust fund.
The program would allow workers to receive a paycheck while taking time off for illness, to have a baby, or to care for sick family members.
In order to reduce the fiscal impact, amendments were expected to be taken up that pushed back the start date to give the state time to find the money to get the program off the ground.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said the paid Family and Medical Leave bill made it through two committees to the floor of the House, which was a long way from where it started. She said it even had some bipartisan support.
As far as affirmative consent, Flexer said there was strong bipartisan support for the measure and it’s unfortunate it died on the House calendar, but it will be raised again next year.
“With many of these issues you have to have a thorough conversation with people so they understand the policy and it’s hard sometimes to do that with 187 legislators,” Flexer said.