• In Colorado, a Question of Personhood

    Oct 30, 2014Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

    In Colorado, the Senate race is particularly divided by issues of personhood and the minimum wage. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

    In Colorado, the Senate race is particularly divided by issues of personhood and the minimum wage. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

    In September, a writer for the Denver Post accurately summed up the heated Colorado Senate race: "If Colorado's U.S. Senate race were a movie, the set would be a gynecologist's office, complete with an exam table and a set of stirrups." Perhaps more than in any other state, women’s issues have indeed been front and center in the sparring match between incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D) and Representative Cory Gardner (R). All eyes are on Colorado’s women’s vote, which is likely to determine that state’s next U.S. Senator, and in the process, set the course on a broad range of socioeconomic issues that disproportionately impact women.

    Where do women in Colorado stand?

    • At first glance, women in Colorado are faring better than their counterparts in other states. Colorado has more women in the state legislature than any other state, and ranks among the top ten for the proportion of women with a bachelor's degree or higher and for its share of women in the workforce. But as a report from the Colorado Women’s Foundation illustrates, those gains obscure the disparities facing poor women and women of color.
    • Colorado women face higher poverty rates than men, and women of color experience rates twice that of white women. Two-thirds of all low-wage workers in Colorado are women. Families of color are particularly affected – median incomes for Black and Hispanic households are about 35 percent below the statewide median, and for American Indians, 40 percent below.
    • Only about half of low-income households headed by single women receive food stamps, and childcare in Colorado is among the most unaffordable in the country.
    • Colorado women make nearly $11,000 less annually compared to their male counterparts and are paid only 77 cents to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men (African-American and Hispanic women earn 61 and 53 cents, respectively).
    • The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.

    Where do the candidates stand?

    Affordable Care Act

    Colorado’s uninsured rate is 11 percent (down from 17 percent in 2013), thanks to its state exchange and Medicaid expansion. It now ranks fifth nationally among states’ reductions in the rate of uninsured under the ACA. It is predicted that Medicaid expansion will yield significant economic results: a 41.5 percent increase in federal payments, a more than $600 increase in average household earnings. the creation of 22,000 jobs, and a 20 percent growth in employment.

    Udall was an early supporter of – and stands by his vote for – the ACA. He has said he is committed to making sure the ACA works for Colorado families. “We cannot go back to the old, broken system when adults and children could be refused coverage because of a preexisting condition, the sick faced annual coverage limits, and all of us were subject to persistent rate increases.”

    As a representative Gardner opposed Colorado’s expansion of Medicaid, citing concerns over the state’s ability to pay for it. He has also cited concerns over discontinued plans and increased premiums resulting from the ACA’s new coverage requirements. “Health care should be about patients and doctors, not government and bureaucrats … As a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, I will be at the forefront of the effort to outline replacement legislation.”

    Family Planning

    Udall sponsored a bill in the Senate – the Not My Bosses’ Business Act – that would have nullified the Hobby Lobby ruling. He has also voted against banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood and against the Blunt Amendment, which would have granted broad exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. He said, “It astounds me that some still think the legality of birth control and access to reproductive health services should be subject to debate.”

    Gardner voted in support of banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He voted against a proposal that would allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception (EC) and against a measure that would require insurance companies to cover contraception. He has opposed a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage for birth control and another that would allow hospitals to tell rape victims about EC. He spoke out against legislation that required science-based sexuality education.

    After the Supreme Court announced the Hobby Lobby decision, Gardner said, “The court made the right decision today to protect religious liberty and the First Amendment.” He later recommended that oral contraceptives be made available over-the-counter, a move that many women’s health advocates criticized as being a blatant attempt at trying to get women’s votes.

    Abortion

    Udall received a 100 percent pro-choice rating from NARAL and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. He has voted against so-called partial-birth abortion bans and against measures to prevent the transportation of minors across state lines to get an abortion. He supported a measure to ensure that rape victims have access to emergency contraception in hospitals and supported legislation to expand funding and access to contraceptive services. “I’ll never stop fighting to protect the rights of Colorado women because I trust them and respect the choices they make.”

    Gardner received a zero percent pro-choice rating from NARAL. He voted against the 2009 Birth Control Protection Act and for a bill that would have allowed hospitals to refuse to provide an abortion, even when a woman’s life is at risk. He sponsored a state bill that would have banned all abortions in the state, co-sponsored a personhood bill at the federal level (Life at Conception Act), and in August, backed both state and federal "personhood" measures in an effort to ban abortion. He has since changed his position on personhood efforts, citing his belief that restricting birth control is simply not right (the current CO personhood measures would have restricted EC). In one recent poll of likely female voters, 60 percent say they don’t trust Gardner when he says he no longer supports a personhood amendment.

    Pay Equity

    Udall voted for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 (meant to restore protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability) and is a co-sponsor of the 2013 Paycheck Fairness Act (which has yet to be voted on but would strengthen protections against sex discrimination in wages).            

    Gardner helped block efforts to move the Paycheck Fairness Act forward in the U.S. House in 2013. However, when he was in the state legislature, he supported legislation that designated Equal Pay Day and acknowledged the “persistent problem of wage disparity among various groups.” In one recent poll of likely female voters, 40 percent said Gardner’s role in helping the House block the consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act makes them less likely to vote for him.

    Minimum Wage

    Udall voted for the federal minimum wage hike bill in April 2014.            

     

    Gardner opposes raising the federal minimum wage, saying that he thinks that “if there’s a minimum wage issue, shouldn’t the state of Colorado be best equipped to handle the minimum wage in the state of Colorado?” However, Gardner has also opposed state-level efforts—he criticized a 2006 ballot measure to increase the state minimum wage in Colorado, voted against a state measure to implement an amendment (approved by voters) to raise the minimum wage, and sponsored a floor amendment in 2007 to strip increases in the minimum wage adjusted for the consumer price index.

    In one recent poll of likely female voters, close to two-thirds (61 percent) said they supported raising the minimum wage, and 41 percent said Gardner’s opposition to raising the minimum wage would make them less likely to vote for him.

    Read the rest of this series, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, here.

    Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

    Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

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  • Election 2014: Women's Rights in the Balance

    Oct 30, 2014Andrea Flynn

    As the election approaches, a number of close-call races could have disparate impact on women. This piece is the overview in our Election 2014: Women's Rights in the Balance series. The state-by-state analyses, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, can be found here.

    As the election approaches, a number of close-call races could have disparate impact on women. This piece is the overview in our Election 2014: Women's Rights in the Balance series. The state-by-state analyses, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, can be found here.

    Pundits have long anticipated that women voters would be the deciding factor in many of the midterm races across the United States. This seems only fitting, given that the outcome of many of this year’s races will shape policies and programs that have a disproportionate impact on women's health, economic security, and overall wellbeing. From birth control to fair pay to food stamps, there is a lot at stake, both at the national and state level.

    With the elections less than a week away, control of the Senate is a tossup (and, according to a number of polls, that’s being generous to the Democrats). What if the Republicans gain a majority? For starters, it would certainly make it more difficult to advance proactive legislation on health access, reproductive and sexual health and rights, gun violence, safety net funding, and financial regulations, among other issues.

    Even with the current Democratic majority, getting legislation passed has been a herculean effort. Remember a year ago when the federal government shut down for two weeks because of the GOP’s disdain for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and specifically its requirement that insurance companies pay for birth control? If lawmakers can’t do the job of keeping open the very government that employs them, it’s hardly surprising they can’t find a legislative fix to the Hobby Lobby ruling. The “Not My Bosses Business Act” – introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) in the wake of this summer’s Supreme Court decision – would have restored the ACA requirement that employer-based health plans cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception. But Republicans filibustered the vote, Democrats fell four votes shy of breaking the filibuster, and the bill met a swift end. Nothing about the fate of this bill – or many others like it – was surprising given the complete intransigence that has come to characterize Washington.

    A more conservative Senate will mean even more attempts to reduce non-defense discretionary spending while concerns about ISIS, Russia, and other national security issues drive up the Pentagon budget. It will mean greater efforts to shrink the social safety net, to keep financial regulations at bay, to restrict reproductive health access, and to dismantle the ACA, President Obama’s crowning political achievement. As Politico pointed out recently, it’s nearly impossible for Republicans to completely repeal the ACA. But they would certainly try to overturn the law’s most vulnerable components or use appropriations and reconciliation battles to eviscerate it. And Republicans would use their strengthened political muscle to push for other measures that have been sidelined under Democratic control. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has promised to push for a 20-week abortion ban if Republicans gain control of the Senate, and there would surely be more where that came from.

    Of course, President Obama would veto any legislation that undermines his own policy priorities, but it remains to be seen how much political capital he would need to spend – and what he would be asked to give up – in order to stay the course. Funding for Planned Parenthood in exchange for the employer mandate? Federal protections for contraceptive access in order to pay for essential safety programs like food stamps? Reducing funding for Medicaid expansion in order to authorize a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program?

    Meanwhile, because of the gridlock in federal politics, states have become an increasingly important battleground for both parties to test and advance their priorities, particularly those that relate to critical – and often controversial – social issues. Each party has seen wins thanks to the shifting focus to the states. Look no further than the historic gains in LGBT rights on the one hand, and the significant restrictions in abortion access on the other, that have swept the country in recent years. This election will determine the path states will take in a number of other important areas: Medicaid expansion, abortion and family planning access, safety net programs, fair and equal pay, and paid sick and family leave.

    To more deeply explore what the midterm elections will mean for women and families, the Roosevelt Institute is releasing a series of articles that examine where the candidates in a number of “close-call” states stand on the issues. Many of these articles were researched by and co-written with students from these states involved with Roosevelt’s Campus Network, the nation’s largest student policy think tank. Our hope is that these pieces will help voters and advocates assess the pressing health and socioeconomic challenges women face in states across the country, and to illustrate where each candidate stands on policies that will have a disproportionate impact on women and their families. 

    Read the state-by-state analyses in this series, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, here.

    Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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  • We Need Pretrial Detention Reform in Massachusetts

    Oct 29, 2014Jessica Morris

    Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

    Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

    There is a bill pending in the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means to build a bail jail in Middlesex County. Led by Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), H.1434 proposes for a new facility for women charged of a crime and awaiting trial. This jail is not for convicted prisoners, but for women who are charged with violent and nonviolent crimes and cannot afford bail.

    Three states away in New Jersey, residents are preparing to vote on Ballot Question Number 1, a bail reform legislation, in this November’s election. Signed by Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), this policy states that dangerous suspects can be held in jail without bail, while non-dangerous suspects can be released through alternatives to bail. Both of these states attempt to tackle the overcrowding issue in jails, but New Jersey’s legislation will alleviate this issue through a long-term and humanizing solution. New Jersey has shown that bail reform is a bipartisan issue that can only be solved through intentional policy.

    Massachusetts can learn from New Jersey’s responsible approach. There has been a growth of pre-trial detention in the state. From 2005 to 2014, pre-trial detainees in Massachusetts Department of Correction custody increased by 23 percent. This growth of pre-trial detention significantly impacts women. 34 percent of total female inmates in Massachusetts's jurisdiction this year are awaiting trial, but only 3 percent of total male inmates. Most women awaiting trial in Massachusetts are not able to make bail (80 percent cannot make bail of $2,000 or less and a third cannot make $500 or less). Many need services – not to be in jails. Two-thirds of the women in Massachusetts state prison have a diagnosed mental illness and half of them use psychotropic drugs. Prisons, such as the bail jail proposed in Middlesex County, can exacerbate mental illness when the women truly only need proper substance abuse and mental health treatments.

    A study by the Pretrial Justice Institute shows that judges are inclined to assign harsher punishments to pretrial detainees than to those who are able to make bail. Thus, a person’s credibility is determined by money, no matter the verdict. Those who can afford to pay their bail do not undergo the ramifications of being in jail. They are able to continue supporting their families or continue their education. If they cannot afford bail, however, they have to go through the obstacles of pausing their lives and are more likely to commit recidivism; pretrial detainees are six times more likely to return to jail because of the challenges they face once released.

    States such as Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Virginia, and possibly soon New Jersey have reformed their pretrial systems. Massachusetts needs to join them. Facilities across the state of Massachusetts are overcrowded by up to 155 percent, and this could be alleviated by using electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration. New Jersey’s proposed legislation does this by having bail depend on risk and not whether someone can afford to pay to get out of jail. A judge will only present bail as a last resort if electronic monitoring might not assure the defendant's appearance at their trial or if he or she is believed to pose a threat to public safety.

    Massachusetts has the political will to take the same path as New Jersey and reform its system. Through legislation similar to New Jersey’s bail reform, pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent crimes should be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program instead of entering a facility. There is a high financial cost for the state and social cost for defendants of having people await trials in jails. An electronic monitoring program is cheaper on both fronts. Defendants would have the ability to return to their lives fully and freely until they are tried. The idea of innocent until proven guilty is currently obsolete in Massachusetts because of the bail system, but it can be restored through reform that ensures liberty prior to trials.

    Jessica Morris is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. She studies politics and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College.

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  • California Community Colleges Building the Workforce of Tomorrow

    Oct 29, 2014Rachel Kanakaole

    A new program offering career-focused bachelor's degrees at California Community Colleges could begin to shift the combined higher education and employment crises in the state.

    "Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." George Washington Carver

    A new program offering career-focused bachelor's degrees at California Community Colleges could begin to shift the combined higher education and employment crises in the state.

    "Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." George Washington Carver

    Living in a society where possessing a college degree is key to securing a well-paying job, the opportunity and access to obtain those degrees is crucial. As students strive to build a better standard of living for themselves and their communities, policy makers and higher education advocates have been stuck with the strenuous task of finding more creative and impactful solutions to educating people. In an era of high demand yet seemingly limited supply, class offerings at the university level in California have become increasingly scarce, leaving it to community colleges to increase their role in educating the workforce of tomorrow.

    Historically, community colleges are known for offering two-year degrees and certificate programs to students who are looking to quickly enter the workforce. While there is a transfer student population planning to transition to a four-year university, that is not their widely known purpose, at least not in California. According to the Vision Statement posted on the website of the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, community colleges are designed to "provide access to lifelong learning for all citizens and create a skilled, progressive workforce to advance the state’s interests." In the advancement of this mission statement, Governor Jerry Brown has just signed into law a pilot program allowing certain community colleges to offer a bachelor's degree program for courses not currently offered at the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) level.

    Senate Bill 850, drafted by Senator Marty Block from San Diego calls for selected districts to develop a pilot program to offer a bachelor's degree program beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, and ending in 2022-2023. It is the intention of the pilot program to offer degrees in courses not otherwise available at traditional four-year institutions, focusing on more direct, career-driven programs such as dental hygiene or radiology. According to the text of the bill itself, the intention is "to produce more professionals in health, biotechnology, public safety, and other in-demand fields." Advocates of the bill stress that the pilot program is not trying to compete with the UC or CSU systems, which is why it was tailored to specific fields. In an attempt to keep costs affordable for students, pricing for classes in the program are capped at the rates offered by CSUs. Also, in order to prevent money from the Board of Governors (BOG) waiver from being shifted away from students still obtaining the traditional two-year degrees and certificates, the bill calls for students enrolling in the pilot program to apply for a Free Federal Financial Aid Application or California Dream Act application in lieu of a BOG waiver.

    The most promising aspect of this bill is its mission to fill the gap between employers who need workers, and workers who need employers to provide jobs. It is specifically outlined in the bill that districts must "identify and document unmet workforce needs in the subject area of the baccalaureate degree to be offered and offer a baccalaureate degree at a campus in a subject area with unmet workforce needs in the local community or region of the district." The districts have an added responsibility to strategically plan which BA programs to offer in order to most beneficially serve the surrounding community. While we won't know the impact this law will have on California Community Colleges just yet, considering the fact it passed with a unanimous vote, the least we can say is our representatives believe there is some positive change to be made.

    While this program is nothing brand-new, with colleges in twenty-one other states already offering BA degrees in similar areas described in the bill, it is new to California, and has the potential to begin to shift the dynamic regarding education and workforce needs across the state. Florida is a great example of a state that allows community colleges to offer BA degrees. Educators in Florida saw enrollment in community college BA programs quadruple in a period of five years. Currently, twenty-five of their twenty-eight community colleges offer BA degree programs. This just goes to show, while SB 850 is by no means the end-all solution to the crisis affecting the higher education or employment systems in California, it is a step forward in the direction of progress for students and workers everywhere.

    Rachel Kanakaole is the Chapter Head of the San Bernardino Valley Community College chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and one of the New Chapters Coordinator for the Western Region.

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