Legislators in Missouri and Kansas wrapped up their work last month, and both sessions included progress and setbacks for women’s economic equity and opportunity. Here’s a recap of how Women’s Foundation priorities fared during the 2019 legislative sessions, and what it means for women and families across the region.
Veterans and Military Families
Women have always played a vital role in our armed forces – whether serving in harm’s way overseas or supporting our troops here at home. To support Missouri’s military families, the Women’s Foundation successfully pressed Missouri lawmakers to pass SB 206, which will make the Wartime Veterans’ Survivors program permanent. This program has helped Missourians whose family members were killed or injured in the line of duty obtain a higher education and build a brighter future for their families.
Providing higher educational opportunities to the families of those killed or injured in the line of duty will strengthen our economy and improve the financial well-being of military families across the state.
Paid Family Leave
This year momentum continued to build, both nationally and at the state level, around the issue of paid family leave. Republicans and Democrats in Congress introduced legislation to address this issue head-on, and here in Missouri Republican State Rep. Chris Dinkins introduced House Resolution 40, calling on the U.S. Congress to come together and pass a nationwide paid family and medical leave law. Unfortunately, this momentum stalled, and none of the paid family leave bills received a vote.
The good news is that officeholders in both Missouri and Kansas are making some progress when it comes to providing paid leave to their employees. In fact, thousands of additional Kansas state employees will benefit from paid parental leave, after the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) joined the other two branches of government, including the Kansas Board of Regents and Secretary of State, in offering the benefit.
In the only country in the world without a nationwide paid family leave program, this issue should be at the top of legislators’ priority lists next year.
Gender Pay Equity
Women in Missouri and Kansas are still paid just 78 cents and 77 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by a man – and women of color face even wider pay gaps. The Women’s Foundation is committed to closing the pay gap by empowering women to negotiate higher salaries and encouraging employers to adopt best practices. But policymakers have a role to play as well.
For example, Missouri State Representative Doug Beck introduced legislation (HB 328), which would have prohibited employers from inquiring about salary history – helping to break the cycle of inequity and make sure women aren’t held back by pay discrimination in a previous job.
While statewide legislation languished, we’re encouraged by the steps Kansas City has taken to ensure equal pay for equal work at the local level.
On May 23, the Kansas City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to combat the gender pay gap by banning employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history. Ordinance No. 19038, sponsored by Councilman Scott Wagner, makes Kansas City the 15th municipality to adopt such a policy.
Combating Sexual Harassment and Abuse
Over the last two years, the #MeToo movement has helped spur a long-overdue national reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse. Because sexual harassment is a barrier to women’s economic and political empowerment, the Women’s Foundation has worked with policymakers in both Kansas and Missouri to ensure a safe, respectful and professional workplace for legislators, state employees, and interns.
That’s why this year we were relieved that two bills that would have taken Missouri backwards were not passed into law. HB 503 and SB 1140 would have made it harder for women to pursue sexual harassment claims against their employers – forcing them into mandatory arbitration and blocking off their access to the courts. Thankfully these bills were never brought to a vote due to strong opposition from the Women’s Foundation and others.
We’re also pleased that lawmakers declined to take up a harmful bill that would have weakened Title IX protections and tilted the scales against victims of sexual assault on college campuses. The failure of this bill is good news for students and families.
Women’s Foundation research has found that occupational licensing regulations have a disproportionate impact on women. And while progress to alleviate these burdens stalled in the Missouri Legislature this year, reforms passed last year are finally being implemented for the benefit of women and all Missourians.
For example, military families and low-income Missourians are eligible to have their licensing fees waived for two years from the date their application is approved. In addition, Missourians interested in pursuing a career as a professional hair braider can now watch a four-hour video instead of taking more than 1,000 hours of cosmetology training that costs on average $14,000.
Next year we’ll continue to work to make it easier for women – especially in high demand fields like psychology – to bring their professional licenses with them when they cross state lines, and continue to ease burdens on veterans and military families.
At the Women's Foundation, we're committed to making sure women are represented at all levels – including in our public spaces and historic sites. That’s why this year we were proud to work with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri State Parks to change the name of Van Meter State Park to Annie and Abel Van Meter State Park.
Annie Van Meter played a significant role in the success of the Van Meter land, and this name change will give park visitors the opportunity to learn more about her legacy and accomplishments.
We thank Missouri State Parks for working with us to give Annie Van Meter the recognition she deserves and look forward to continuing this progress in the months and years to come.
Moving forward, there is more work to be done on all these issues, and the Women’s Foundation will continue to work to increase equity and opportunity for women across the region.
Together we can make Kansas and Missouri models for the nation with research-backed policy solutions that build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous future for all.