Legislator Panel in Palm Beach County

On Saturday, October 12, I moderated a panel of legislators invited by the Palm Beach County branch of AAUW. The panelists were Sen. Bobby Powell of District 30 of the Florida State Senate, Sen. Lori Berman of District 31, and US Congress Representative Lois Frankel. All are supportive of our issues. In hopes that this might provide a useful model and alert you to some current issues, I am posting the questions I sent out to these legislators ahead of time. The topics of AAUW’s interests were economic security, civil rights, and educational equity. You may download the document below:

We were not able to cover all the topics. If you use this document, you might want to pick and choose, and modify in the case of less friendly lawmakers. The legislators did have interesting comments. Sen. Linda Stewart has filed the Helen Gordon Davis Equal Pay Protection Act again this year as SB 90, along with Berman, Lauren Book (Dist. 32) and Janet Cruz (Dist. 18) as co-sponsors (see below). Berman unsuccessfully filed what she called a “carrot bill” last year to favor companies that demonstrated pay equity in state contracts, but the committee hearing she was promissed never occurred. She pointed out that two thirds of minimum wage employees in Florida are women, and that healthcare is a major issue in their economic security. Sen. Powell mentioned his intense interest in this issue because of his daughters. US Representative Frankel noted that the US House has already passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would cover the same ground as the Helen Gordon Davis act in Florida. It has not been considered in the Senate.

In terms of civil rights, Sen. Berman pointed out that the parental consent bill may pass in the Florida legislature (SB 404, HB 265). It would require parental consent for abortions performed on minor children. Presently, Florida simply requires notification. This will cause problems in chaotic family situations and in situations of family sexual abuse. Rep. Frankel supports the national Women’s Health Protection Act (see below), which would counteract the many state efforts to limit access to abortion and threaten providers. When I mentioned AAUW’s support for restoring voting rights to former felons, Sen. Powell mentioned that there are groups organizing in the area to address the issue of financial obligations which have been labeled a poll tax.

The legislators were asked how we can best influence legislation to support our issues. They offered several worthwhile suggestions:

  • Be authentic and bring in personal stories whenever possible. Part of being authentic is speaking for yourself and not sending canned messages. We love our Two Minute Activist, but Sen. Powell said it is possible to just filter out these messages. Write your own by going to the legislator’s website and filling out their forms. You can also tweet them on their sites.
  • Infiltrate organizations that are not as friendly to your issues!
  • Make sure the legislator knows that you are a constituent and recruit other constituents to advocate.
  • Always say thank you to legislators who do support your issues.

With reference to the above, we presented Sen. Lori Berman with a framed resolution thanking her for her continued support for equal pay legislation.

Introducing Kay Smith: New Public Policy Director

As my term as Public Policy Director of AAUW Florida comes to an end, I am extremely pleased to introduce you to our new Director for Public Policy, Kay Lee-Smith. She is well-qualified and enthusiastic, and we are very fortunate to have her join the board. Since she agreed to be a candidate too late for her bio to be included in the spring Florivision, you may read it below, in her own words.

I urge you to give Kay your wholehearted support as she works to advance our public policy in Florida. This work takes place not just during Lobby Days, although that is important. We need to be advancing equity for women and girls all year long, and we cannot do that by just meeting together and enjoying our own company. Legislators will vote for bills that people support, and if they will not do so, the people will elect others. Where do we come in? We need to let the legislators know what kinds of things we would like to see in state government. We need to try to get others to join us, or to join others, so that our combined voices may be heard. These are trying times for equity for women and girls, and we cannot advance it by keeping silent. If we do not speak up and bear witness, women and girls stand to lose what has been gained throughout our lifetimes. So be strong, be civil but principled, and above all, be there!

Patricia DeWitt, incoming President-Elect, AAUW of Florida

K. Lee-Smith, Ph.D.
Director of Public Policy, AAUW Florida

Dr. Lee-Smith is a public servant with experience in the fields of Project Management; Business and Community Planning; Policy Analysis; and Research, Real Estate, and Systems Administration.  She received a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Jackson State University, Jackson, MS.  Dr. Lee-Smith is a member of the Tampa Florida Branch of AAUW, where she has served as Newsletter Chair and Director of Communications.  

Dr. Lee-Smith joined AAUW because of the vision, “Bringing together Individuals with a common goal of breaking through education and economic barriers for all women.”  Her goal as AAUW Florida Director of Public Policy is to help promote the agenda for women by advocating for the passage of all legislation regarding women’s rights.  

Dr. Lee-Smith is also a member of the Tampa Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., where she serves on the Economic Development and Social Action Committees.  She is also a member of Pi Sigma Alpha and Phi Gamma Mu Honor Societies, the American Society of Public Administrators, and the Conference of Minority Public Administrators. Her research interests are environmental, economic, healthcare, and educational disparities. 

Dr. Lee-Smith is married to the LTC (Retired) David Smith and they have three children Tara, David II, and Jon-Kyle.  She is a member of the United Methodist Church and currently attends St. James UMC, Tampa, Florida.  She believes success equals a trained mind and a heart inspired by God. 

AAUW and Abortion Bans

This year’s state legislative season has seen extreme restrictions on abortion in several states voted into law, including so-called “fetal heartbeat bills” and even a near-andtotal ban on abortion in Alabama. More than 15 states have proposed or passed such bills. The motivation appears to be to generate a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which as it stands would prevent these bills from becoming enforced law. They will be challenged in the courts, but supporters hope the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe.

AAUW continues to support a woman’s self-determination in her reproductive health decisions. Deborah Vagins, AAUW’s senior vice president for public policy and research, has recently set out an appeal to donate so that AAUW may help counter these attempts to turn the clock back to the 1950s. AAUW has joined dozens of organizations nationwide to stand against the bans.

It is my hope as Director for Public Policy and soon-to-be President-elect that AAUW of Florida will wholeheartedly support AAUW’s position regarding reproductive freedom. I also realize that this is a troubling topic for some. If you are troubled, please read the rest of this post, which seeks to go beyond gut reactions and to bring some actual information to the topic.

As educated women, AAUW’s membership should be a receptive audience for facts and information to counteract false claims and misinformation. To begin, the bills that have passed in several states are called “fetal heartbeat bills” by both supporters and opponents. This implies that physicians can detect a “lub-lub” audible heartbeat as early as six weeks. To the contrary, according to Rewire.News, what is being detected is an electrical pulse from something called the fetal pole, a thick area alongside the yolk sac that extends from one end of an embryo to the other. Not the bouncing babies shown on billboards begging their mothers not to kill them! At the fetal pole stage, there is no heart at all.

Now for some more facts:

  • Under English common law, abortion was legal until “quickening” (about the fourth month). In the mid-1800s, most states made all abortions illegal under most circumstances. By 1973, legal abortions were available in 17 states. Abortion Law
  • Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion but allows for individual states to pass laws regulating abortion in the second and third trimesters. From the majority opinion: “We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacyincludes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.” What are those state interests? “…at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant.”
  • According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are low income, 60% are in their 20s, and 59% already have a child. Racially, they are 39% white, 28% black, 25% Hispanic, 6% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3% other. 62% are religiously affiliated.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, of the 638,169 abortions reported by states (three did not report):
    • 4% were performed at 8 weeks of gestation or less
    • 7% were performed at 9-13 weeks of gestation
    • 3% were performed at 21 weeks or more
  • Among the 39 areas that reported to the CDC by marital status for 2015, 14.3% of all women who obtained an abortion were married, and 85.7% were unmarried.
  • In 2015, Florida reported 72,023 abortions to the CDC. Florida did not report abortion patients by age or gestational age of the fetus.
  • The CDC found that, in 2014, only six women were identified to have died as a result of complications from legal induced abortion.
  • Contraception methods can fail. The CDC reports a 9% failure rate for the “pill”, patch and ring, and 12% for the diaphragm. Male condoms fail at 18%. IUDs are among the most effective methods of contraception (failure rate .2%).
  • A fact from another source: (p. 3) 81% of single mothers in Florida have incomes below the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) index, which benchmarks the income a family needs for basic expenses plus emergency and retirement savings.
  • In spite of the picture created from the statistics, of a typical abortion patient being an impoverished single mother in her 20s, women 40 years old or more received 3.5% of all abortions.
  • In an attempt to portray themselves as fellow human beings, women who have had abortions are starting to tell their stories. (more stories) Some common reasons for unintended pregnancy include:
    • Birth control failure
    • Abusive relationships
    • Rape
    • Coercion
    • Poor judgment
  • Some reasons for choosing abortion include not being ready to be a mother, physical difficulties short of life-threatening, not being able to afford another child, and severe fetal abnormalities.

Here’s what I learned from these statistics: abortion is not terribly rare. It has been practiced for centuries. Today, it is extremely safe. Around 90% of all abortions are performed before 13 weeks of gestation. Women in their 20s are the primary abortion patients, and black women are disproportionately represented among them, as are women living in poverty. Many of these women have used contraception, but it failed. Many of them already have one or more children, and they likely will have trouble affording the expenses of another child.

However, as the stories tell, there are many reasons for having an abortion, and many different kinds of women have them. Each story is unique. Read them. For some, you might think the woman could have made another choice, but for others, only the most hard-hearted or medically uninformed would deny her right to choose an abortion. That is why “AAUW trusts that every woman has the ability to make her own informed choices regarding her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs. Further, AAUW believes that these deeply personal decisions should be made without government interference.”

 

 

 

 

Pay Equity Audits and State Procurement

Rep. Fentrice Driskell and Sen. Lori Berman have filed bills, H 633, S 652: State Procurement, that would reward state contractors who establish a process for determining that they pay men and women equally for equal work. The Department of Management Services would establish a certification program, and procurement would favor certified contractors.

You may wonder, as I did, how the criteria would be established for ensuring pay equity. The company payscale.com does some very interesting research and has some excellent suggestions as to how to conduct a pay audit.

In the recorded webinar I viewed, a researcher from payscale.com reported on his and other research showing that if you control for all the factors influencing salary, the pay difference between men and women is only about 2%. He stated that both the controlled and the uncontrolled pay gap are important. The control factors include such things as years of experience and job category. Biases are built into these, because women may take time out of the workforce and they are often funneled into job types that pay less. He showed research comparing men and women at early career, midcareer, and late career stages. At mid and especially late career, women are less likely to hold managerial and executive positions than men.

The presenters pointed out that pay equity laws are becoming more stringent in certain states and that this trend is likely to continue. Therefore, a company needs to protect itself against lawsuits by complying in advance with proper pay equity standards and by monitoring bias. One thing to look out for is that the job description for an individual should match what they are actually asked to do, especially when elements of that job description are compensable.

A large company can do advanced statistical analysis to study pay equity using multiple regression, but that takes specialized knowledge which is not usually available to a small company. Even if they hire an outside consultant with expertise, they may not have enough employees to yield satisfactory statistical results. However, the presenters suggested certain analyses that could be done using Excel (or a tool that they provide). First the company needs to collect data including job type, job level, demographics, full or part-time status, performance ratings if they exist, and of course pay. He stated that the gender breakdown across department/job group/job level may explain a lot of the uncontrolled pay gap, due to occupational segregation. That needs to be compared with appropriate outside reference groups.

To start the analysis, employees should be grouped by job family (such as accountants), job title, and similar departments might be grouped together. Once the groups are determined, the salary range can be calculated. The presenter suggested two statistics to describe where the individual falls in the salary range: the range penetration, which is simply how far up the individual salary falls within the salary range; and the compa-ratio, which is the salary divided by the range midpoint. (That midpoint would be the median rather than the average.) Then the analyst would compare the different demographic groups according to the statistics. The example shown was Accountant I, male versus female, showing that the range penetration of the males was 48% compared with 30% for the females. Excel could calculate a simple statistical test using this number, but the power of that test would be dependent on the number of employees involved. The presenter suggested that when looking at the data in a systematic way, the employer would probably be able to see where the problems are.

The presenter stated that if a lawsuit were involved, the fact that the company conducted a good-faith analysis would be persuasive. The methodology itself would be of secondary consideration at this point in time. Also, if employees know that the employer is looking carefully at pay equity, they might be less likely to sue. That good-faith effort was also described in the following suggestions that a company can use to ensure pay equity:

What else can you do to ensure pay equity?

  • Look at your promotion velocity.
    • Examine your processes and identify areas where bias can come in.
  • Have a clearly defined process for promotions.
  • Price a position, not a candidate
  • Encourage employees to discuss pay-related matters.
    • Talk to employees about how your pay decisions are made.
  • Audit your pay practices on a regular basis
  • Analyze your talent acquisition sourcing practices.
    • Identify areas where bias can come in.

Human Trafficking Report by Kay Smith

AAUW Florida Public Policy Committee member Kay Smith has been researching human trafficking and recently attended a conference in Tampa. She has also identified and is tracking three bills related to the issue. We will be advocating for these bills during Lobby Days.

Here’s her report:

  1. Florida has the 3rd largest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline
  2. 1 in 3 girls have been sexually abused
  3. HT is a 152 billion dollar business globally
  4. Keys to combating HT
    1. Education/Prevention/Awareness
      1. Education is the key at an early age K-12
      2. Victims who have been abused early, by time they are teenagers it’s too late, they are usually recruiting victims
      3. Training is needed by law enforcement, business owners, healthcare providers, and general public in identifying and reporting HT
    2. Methodology needed to identify barriers to prevention
    3. Deterrents to HT via strong criminal penalties are needed
    4. Reintegration of victims via employment, healthcare, and life skills training is essential

In my review of the Bills, the below drew my attention because they addressed education/prevention or proposed deterrents via criminal penalties:

  1. HB 219  and its related bill CS/SB 370 – Mandatory minimum term of incarceration, as a deterrent
  2. HB 259 and its related bill SB 982 – Human Trafficking Education PreK-12
  3. HB 851 and its related bill SB 540 – Education and training for owner/operator of public lodging establishments

Time to Advocate with the Florida Legislature

IMG_0477Pat DeWitt is in the green sweater. See #2 below. I have two reports on this topic:

1. Friday, February 1: Local Legislative Visit

Another member of the Jacksonville branch, Kay McKenna, and I visited the office of Sen. Aaron Bean, where we spoke with his legislative assistant, Dee Alexander for over an hour. We presented her with a brief description of AAUW, The Simple Truth in full and one-page versions, and a card about the online Work Smart program. We gave her a partial list of bills that AAUW plans to support during the 2019 legislative session in Florida–leaving out those that Sen. Bean would certainly not support. That left us with several bills that seemed to interest Ms. Alexander. The conversation was pleasant and Ms. Alexander asked several questions which we were able to answer, with the aid of the AAUW publications.

We then asked her what Sen. Bean is working on that we might be able to support, and she mentioned a juvenile justice bill and a couple of local programs.

RENEWED CHALLENGE: the Florida state legislature is not active during the last week of February, February 25 to March 1, and that would be a good time to visit your Florida legislators in their districts.

2. Wednesday, February 6: Tallahassee Visit

I was invited to attend a press conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday, February 6 to “stand and support” three bills impacting women’s economic security: the Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Protection Act, which AAUW helped write three years ago; State Procurement, which would require the state to certify and favor suppliers that follow gender pay equity; and Employment Practices, a new paid family leave bill. Details of these are below.

I did not get to speak, but five legislators spoke forcefully: Dotie Joseph, Janet Cruz, Linda Stewart, Lori Berman, and Fentrice Driskell (detail below). At the end of the conference a lobbyist for NOW, Barbara DeVane, went to the microphone and introduced those of us who came from various organizations to support the legislation. We should each have been carrying signs with the names of our organizations. Supporters included the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Women of Florida, Planned Parenthood, NOW, and some women’s organizations from South Florida.

After the press conference, I spoke to Dotie Joseph and Fentrice Driskell, new legislators, and gave them copies of the AAUW’s The Simple Truth report (both one page and full versions) as well as the one-page Florida roadmap for pay equity.

IF ANY OF YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS ARE ON THE LIST BELOW, PLEASE WRITE AND THANK THEM!

Helen Gordon Davis Bill Sponsors (H 419, S 474)

Rep. Dotie Joseph, D 108 (Miami-Dade), Elected 2018

Sen. Linda Stewart, D 13 (Orlando area), and Janet Cruz, D 18 Hillsborough; Victor Torres D 15 Orange/Osceola Co.

State Procurement Bill Sponsors (H 633, S 652)

Sen. Lori Berman D 31 (Palm Beach County) and Victor Torres D 15. Berman, a longtime friend of AAUW, moved up to Senate in 2018

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D 63 (Hillsborough, lives in Tampa), Elected 2018

Employment Practices Bill Sponsors (H 393, S 692)

Rep. Dotie Joseph (see above)

Sen. Janet Cruz, D 18 (Hillsborough)

 

When Social Media Bites Back

When I moved to the small town of Rome, Georgia, I was advised never to say anything bad about person A in front of person B, because you don’t know who is related to whom. The Internet is like a small town in this way. You never know where your comment will wind up. If your comment arouses someone’s host him himility, they may find out who is related to you and slander them in return.

Something very like this happened recently here in Florida. One of our branch officers (I’ll call her Peggy) expressed her own opinion on her own Facebook page regarding a popular woman TV personality. Offended by this personality’s confrontational style, Peggy called her an unflattering name in her post. Now, it seems that once Peggy ran for local office, and helpful friends linked her Facebook account to a Twitter account to maximize her exposure. She was not aware it was still linked when she made her explosive comment, but it was from that Twitter account that another Twitter user retrieved her comment, found out she was an officer of AAUW, and proceeded to condemn her and Florida AAUW. He had found out she was an AAUW officer by connecting her with a newspaper article.

Of course, national AAUW has a feed whereby they can see anything in the media regarding AAUW. So the next step in this viral contagion was that AAUW’s national advancement officer, Kendra Davis, contacted our president, Pat Ross, and suggested that we ask Peggy to publish a retraction. Peggy’s Twitter adversary had 66,000 followers. The national officer recommended that Peggy state on Facebook that her opinion was not the opinion of Florida AAUW. Peggy complied, posting on her Facebook page that her opinions were her own and not those of Florida AAUW. Nothing more has come of the flap since then.

Since I felt that there was a public policy dimension to all this, I consulted with Elizabeth Holden of the public policy office. She assured me that this sort of thing is the purview of membership and advancement. If the negative publicity had occurred in connection with an advocacy event or project, the national public policy office would have helped the branch to deal with it. Elizabeth assured me that Kendra did not intend to censor members.

I have seen the tweets, but at this time I agree with Elizabeth that since “the story didn’t get legs”, we may just take it as a cautionary tale. So what may we learn from this disappointing experience?

First, we must understand that nothing in cyberspace is ever private. It is as public as if we had shouted it out like a street preacher. Fortunately, it is also evanescent, but it is possible to retrieve anything that we have ever put out there. If someone has an ill will toward us, it is possible to dredge up damaging information, even if we ourselves did not put the information there (the newspaper article, for example: most newspapers are online today.) Therefore, we must be ready to defend every expression we make public in any medium.

If we must defend anything we say in public, it follows that what we say needs to reflect our best, most principled and civil self. We need to save our primal screams for our most trusted friends, or better yet for our trips far out into the forest or the ocean. The good news is that always to take the high ground, as Michelle Obama said, is uplifting and ennobling. When Peggy consented to post that her opinions were her own and not those of Florida AAUW, she took the high ground.

It would be a disaster for AAUW advocacy if we all concluded that we must be silent.The only way that any group can avoid criticism today is never to take any kind of a stand at all. We cannot be cowed. We can and must be civil but we must not hide our heads. I am always telling people why I joined AAUW, but I sometimes leave out a few details. I used to watch groups of women walking down the hall in my college saying that they were going to an AAUW meeting. They were very staid, respectable type ladies, one of whom was the head librarian, Mary Mac Mosley.  Then one day, after the publication of “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” an article appeared in our local paper stating that AAUW was a radical feminist group. I decided that if Mary Mac was a member of this radical feminist group maybe I should be too. The detail that I keep leaving out was that AAUW was in fact attacked in our local paper (attacks were a little milder back then).Him him

Don’t forget the last [Christian] Beatitude: “Blessed are ye when men revile you…for my sake.” But make sure it is for the sake of right. Do keep speaking out in support of our advocacy efforts with passion and strong, well informed opinion.