Sunday, June 25, 2017 | 2 a.m.
In a Legislature in which the ratio of women to men was among the country’s highest, gender equality issues ranging from tampon taxes to equal pay were advanced.
Representing less than a quarter of the nation’s lawmakers, women held almost 40 percent of the seats across Nevada’s Senate and Assembly in the 2017 session. Ellen Spiegel, a Democratic assemblywoman from Henderson, said this year’s session demonstrated the difference more women can make.
“Having so many women legislators be interested in women’s issues and with there being enough of us, we were able to make our voices heard and make an impact,” said Spiegel, who sponsored Assembly Bill 113 on accommodations for working mothers.
Spiegel said she first introduced the bill in the 2015 session, under Republican leadership, but it did not move forward. She said she spent time with stakeholders to “iron out the kinks” so the measure could prevail this session.
Among other provisions, the new law requires certain employers to provide break time and a space for nursing moms.
“Mothers’ milk provides babies with their first immunization,” Spiegel said. “Not only was it an economic issue for women in terms of feeding their children, it also became a health issue.”
State Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, said hundreds of people and several groups, including Planned Parenthood, advocated for lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 233 and Assembly Bill 249, measures which require health insurance plans to cover 12-month supplies of contraceptives.
“I’ve been thrilled that there’s been really broad-based support for the concept of making sure that women’s preventive health care is a priority in our state,” she said.
“If you’re a working mom who’s got all these other things on your plate, you don’t want to have not getting to the pharmacy on time be the thing that disrupts your contraception,” Ratti said. “Great data out there show that there are a number of unintended pregnancies purely because we don’t have 12-month dispensing.”
The bill started out with partisan support, Ratti said, but gained Republican votes over time.
“Whenever we start talking about women’s health, some unfortunate lines get drawn, and people get suspicious about what is and is not in a bill,” she said. “So it was just a matter of really helping everybody to understand that this bill is about women’s health, it’s about contraception, and access to contraception and is not about anything else. As soon as folks could get comfortable that that really was the case, we got some broad-based support.”
The new law also incorporates preventive health care standards in the Affordable Care Act, which is the target of repeal efforts in Congress.
“That’s more of a protective measure in case something changes at the national level,” Ratti said.
Gov. Brian Sandoval signed all three measures into law, as well as Spiegel’s Assembly Bill 106 on voluntary equal-pay-for-equal-work certification, and Assembly Bill 276, which protects against discrimination by employers whose workers voluntarily discuss their pay.
Spiegel said the pay bill stemmed from a personal experience, in which she faced hostility from bosses after asking why a co-worker with the same job was paid more despite his lesser experience.
“The problem still goes on,” Spiegel said. “Women are hesitant to come forward to discuss it because they’re afraid of getting fired.”
Senate Bill 253, sponsored by Sen. Nicole J. Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, gained the governor’s approval as well, creating the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act to protect female employees in line with the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Sandoval also signed off on Senate Bill 415, which allows voters to decide in 2018 whether the so-called pink tax on feminine hygiene products will stand. Sponsored by Sen. Yvanna D. Cancela, D-Las Vegas, the bill received near-unanimous support in the Legislature before landing on Sandoval’s desk.
Ratti said this is a time when people are getting involved in the issues about which they care. She said she was driving and heard a female caller on the radio urging people to support the two bills on contraceptives.
“That is really cool,” Ratti said, “this engagement that we’ve seen from everybody, and particularly young women who are getting active in politics to make sure that their needs are known.”
Millions of people marched around the world in January to express support for women’s rights and equality. The turnout was a surprise to some communities and officials, with crowds exceeding estimates in many cities.
Activists have said the next step is taking action to make an impact.
“We’re certainly in an interesting time right now where people are really fired up,” Ratti said.