WREN’s 2022 Legislative Outlook- Policies that Impact Gender Justice
by Ashley Crary Lidow, MPH on Jan 6, 2022
2022 marks the second year of the legislative cycle for the South Carolina General Assembly. This means that when lawmakers come back to Columbia, they can discuss policies that were introduced in 2021 as well as introduce and debate new policies. 2022 also means that South Carolina is in an election year for all House members and the Governor, which will contribute to the political dynamics during policy debates.
Since this is the second session of the 124th General Assembly, any legislation that doesn’t pass both chambers by May 12th would have to start the entire legislative process over in 2023. This dynamic of being the second year of session and election year creates a sense of urgency for policymakers. Legislators will be working hard to get their top priorities over the finish line in the next four months which is why it is crucial to break through any of the noise and keep their attention on the policies that matter.
WREN is committed to ensuring that lawmakers are setting the proper priorities that are based in what our communities need. WREN will engage on policies that reflect the values that we hold in the Gender Justice Policy Agenda and will have a focus and deeper engagement on policies that relate to Economic Dignity and Reproductive Freedom.
The COVID-19 pandemic stretched the national economy to a breaking point causing unemployment to spike, especially among women. Here in South Carolina and around the country, we have experienced a “she-cession,” which means the economy’s downturn has disproportionately affected women. This trend has reverberations for the overall recovery of our economy. A new report by WREN provides the first analysis of the she-cession in South Carolina. The report, prepared by research economist Joseph Von Nessen, PhD, shows that our current labor shortages cannot be solved without getting women back to work.
Women have experienced disproportionate employment loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. In South Carolina, the number of unemployment claims from women increased to a rate unseen before the pandemic. WREN’s report suggests that women are an untapped labor force that can provide a solution to South Carolina’s labor shortage—if employers are willing to make changes to the workplace that would encourage their participation.
“This labor shortage provides a unique opportunity to help employers find new and more effective ways to recruit workers – and women in particular – that they may not have previously considered. This could include, for example, higher wages or more flexible schedules,” Dr. Von Nessen said. “Employers across most industries are hiring right now and are looking for solutions to their labor challenges.”
WREN is committed to ensuring that all women and gender expansive people can work with equity, safety, and dignity. The economic dignity policies that are a top priority in lobbying and mobilization efforts for WREN are Pay Equity and Paid Leave.
South Carolina has one of the largest gender and racial pay gaps in the nation and is one of only four states in the nation that does not have laws that explicitly prevent pay discrimination. These disparities are harmful to women and to their families, especially because so many households in South Carolina rely on the income earned by women. Two-thirds of women in our state are either the sole or co-breadwinner for their households. The economic consequences of these disparities are even greater in the wake of the COVID pandemic, as women are disproportionately working in high-risk jobs, taking on the burden of caregiving, and suffering unemployment.
Pay equity legislation is one extremely effective tool to begin to close these stubborn pay gaps. With increased protections against discrimination, South Carolina will be a better place for women to work and live. The SC Act to Establish Pay Equity (H.3183 & S.514) is a bill that has bipartisan support and would ensure that employee pay is based on factors such as skill, effort, and responsibility. It bans the use of salary history and provides pay transparency without retaliation.
“It is long past time to address the gender pay gap. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the costs of undervaluing women in the workforce. We have an opportunity to rebuild an economy that works for women. An economy that works for women works better for us all,” said Ann Warner, CEO of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network.
Women are critical to our economy, and thus any economic recovery efforts must center women workers, particularly women of color, and ensure that they receive equitable wages. Equal pay measures are necessary to help more people re-enter the workforce and employers to rebuild their businesses. Equal pay measures provide tools that enable job seekers to find jobs and employers to efficiently, effectively, and fairly restore their workforce. Fair pay would also help ensure all communities are resilient and sustainable, no matter what crises arise in the future.
Paid Family Leave for State Employees (H.3560) is a bill that has bipartisan support and would ensure that state employees receive 12 weeks of paid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
Paid family leave is crucial to supporting working families’ economic security and promoting gender equity in workplaces. No one should have to risk their job or face financial loss when they need to welcome a new child.
Paid leave improves child health outcomes as parents who do not return to work full time in the first 12 weeks are more likely to receive medical checkups and vaccinations. Parents also benefit, fathers who take longer leave experience greater engagement in their children’s lives and mothers are more likely to return to the workforce.
WREN supports efforts to bring gender equity to the workplace and caregiving roles. Paid leave would provide people of all genders with the ability to work and care for their families. This policy is essential to a healthy and functioning state, no parent should have to choose between bonding with their child and financially providing for their family.
This issue has wide bipartisan support. A poll of likely voters found that 90% of South Carolinians believe this should be a legislative priority. The House passed the bill on April 6, 2021 by a vote of 104-4 and now we need your help to ask the Senate to support.
WREN is committed to ensuring comprehensive access to health coverage and equitable care, including abortion services, birth control, healthcare for pregnant people, and gender-affirming care. Everyone, no matter their immigration status, deserves access to health care, when and where they need it, without financial difficulty, discrimination, barriers, or stigma. The right to decide whether or when to have a child is essential for social, economic, and racial equality, reproductive autonomy, and the right to determine our own futures. Research has shown that access to abortion directly impacts the economic wellbeing of individuals and their families. WREN CEO Ann Warner outlined this linkage in WREN’s testimony against the 6-week abortion ban.
In 2021, there were extreme attacks on reproductive freedom and going in to 2022, we will continue to push back against policies that harm bodily autonomy and push for policies that increase access to high quality care.
Pushing Back on Restrictions
- The Senate has decided to start the new year with a hearing on a healthcare discrimination bill, S.811 which would allow health care professionals to discriminate against their patients and refuse to provide them care. This dangerous and far-reaching bill permits any person participating in health care service to deny care to their patients for any reason, without a medical justification. The health consequences of such a sweeping law could be catastrophic. This is a dangerous healthcare discrimination bill and we need as many people as possible speaking out against the policy.
- Opposing additional restrictions to abortion care
- Opposing bills that target transgender youth
Increasing Access to Reproductive Health
- Pharmacy Access Act (S.628) would authorize pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives, which can make contraceptive care more accessible and affordable by eliminating the need for a separate visit to a health care provider to obtain a prescription. Expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice to include prescribing birth control helps alleviate many of the obstacles to finding and seeing a doctor that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This bill has passed the Senate and the House must take this bill up to increase contraceptive access in the state.
- Addressing Black Maternal Health via the Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act (H 3225). The Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act is a step in the right direction towards addressing the systemic racism that is plaguing the healthcare system. H.3225 has passed the House and now needs the Senate to debate it.
- The Menstrual Equity bills, H.3747 and S.574, would exempt menstrual hygiene products from sales tax. The removal of the tax on period products would alleviate the additional monthly expense of paying a luxury tax on a necessary medical product. Advancing menstrual equity by removing the tax on menstrual hygiene products which had a hearing in 2021 but needs another hearing and to be advanced in the House and then Senate.
You can make your voice heard by visiting our action center which outlines all these policies and connects you directly to lawmakers, click here to visit.