On January 1 of this year, many laws that boosted women’s rights kicked into effect.
In California, employers can no longer inquire into the salary history of candidates for positions. For a state where the difference in median salary of men and women is still $7,227 a year, the measure is an essential one. Although the bill was publicly advertised as a means to prevent employers from deciding not to hire an employee based on their past salaries, it will more importantly stop companies and businesses from getting away with paying women less because their income history may not be as high. Now, potential employees may also ask for the typical pay scale of the position they are applying to – hopefully empowering women to ask for the wages they rightfully deserve.
That isn’t the only workplace shake-up taking shape this year. In New York, most individuals will be guaranteed eight weeks of family leave. In Washington, workers will now accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked—narrowing the gender wage gap and providing more support for women that are balancing family and work obligations. And 18 states—including purple states like Montana, Missouri and South Dakota—saw rises in the minimum wage, a boon to the two-thirds of low-income wage earners who are women.
In other states, legislation addressed the intersections of gender, race and class that limit economic justice. A new Kentucky law gives people with felony convictions a chance to obtain a professional license and earn wages while incarcerated, enabling single mothers in prison to save money, send money and prepare to enter the job market when released. In Vermont, companies and businesses are now prohibited from asking for potential or current employee social media accounts—a move that might help protect female employees from harmful stereotypes, job discrimination and online harassment. And a new law in Nevada requiring employers to provide up to 160 hours of paid leave for DV victims and their families offers some security and stability for women at risk. (As many as 27 percent of domestic violence victims have lost their jobs as a direct result of the violence they face, and up to 54 percent miss multiple entire days of work to recuperate.)
New health policies enacted in various states will also improve women’s lives. Women in Virginia, for example, can now secure a year’s supply of birth control pills all at once—a change which could help the state combat its high rate of unintended pregnancies—one of the highest in the nation. In 2010 alone, 54 percent of pregnancies in the state were unintended. Meanwhile, Michigan has fully embraced telemedicine, enacting several 2017 laws to regulate the emerging industry. One of the most crucial was the decision to allow doctors to legally remotely prescribe medication over the phone; for women that stay at home with children, do not have access to transportation or are bed-ridden, the new law will provide more flexibility and care options that work with their schedule and health needs. For rural women, it could be key to abortion access. Further south in North Carolina, a new law limits how many prescription painkillers doctors and nurse practitioners can prescribe—an effort that will hopefully stymie the skyrocketing rate of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses facing women nationally. (Between 1999 and 2015, the rate of deaths increased 471 percent among U.S. women.)
As former U.S. speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said: “All politics is local.” As the Trump administration does its worst to chip away at women’s rights, these new laws remind us just how big a role state lawmakers can play in improving women’s lives.