With the 2020 legislative session kicking off on Jan. 8, there are many proposals being considered that could have a big impact on gender equity. We’ve rounded up a few to keep an eye on:
- Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (SJ 1/HJ 1) - Virginia could become the 38th state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This would add the highest level of legal protection against sex-based discrimination available to the U.S. Constitution. Ratifying the ERA could provide a new basis to pass laws addressing domestic and sexual violence, pregnancy discrimination and reproductive freedom.
- Reforming the Criminal Legal System – Women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population. Shoplifting and theft accounted for nearly 40% of women’s arrests from 1999-2016, making this the most common offense for which women were arrested. Felony larceny reform – increasing the felony larceny threshold to at least $1,500 and eliminating the “three strikes” felony larceny statute – would reduce the disproportionately harsh consequences for these offenses.
Women are twice as likely as men to report economic need as the motivation for their crimes. Denying someone pretrial release simply because they are unable to pay bail can cause them to miss job shifts, or even to lose their job or housing entirely. It also can cause particular hardships for those who are primary caretakers of their children, including traumatizing separation and custody consequences. Pretrial reforms like requiring the release without bond of those arrested for misdemeanors would stem some of the harms of pretrial detention.
- Protecting Abortion Rights – Virginia has many restrictions on abortion providers that impede access to abortion. These targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws include things like a two-trip mandatory delay law, which forces patients to undergo an ultrasound and listen to information that serves no medical purpose 24 hours before their abortion. Repealing these TRAP laws would remove needless barriers to abortion and increase access throughout the Commonwealth.
- Passing Meaningful Anti-Discrimination Protections – Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws are very weak. It is one of only four states that does not have a state agency with meaningful powers to enforce anti-discrimination laws. Twenty-eight states have employee thresholds for private employment discrimination lawsuits that are lower than Virginia’s current law, meaning employees at smaller employers can file lawsuits to defend their own rights. We expect landmark civil rights legislation to be introduced that would provide protections against discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment for all Virginians. Such a law is long overdue in the Commonwealth.
- Providing Pregnancy Accommodations – No one should be forced out of their job because they are pregnant. Federal law only provides protections against discrimination to employees working for employers with more than 15 employees, and only requires accommodations for pregnancy-related disabilities. A pregnant worker at a small employer who only needs access to water or temporary relief from heavy lifting, for example, would have no legal protections. Virginia should close these gaps and ensure that all pregnant workers in the Commonwealth are provided reasonable accommodations so they are not forced to choose between their job and their health.
The results of this legislative session could have a tremendous impact on millions of Virginians. Please reach out to your state representatives and ask them to support gender equity in the law this year.