Raleigh, N.C. — Several women's groups and some Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday that the General Assembly needs to treat women with more respect instead of pandering to them with laws purported to protect them.
NC Women United issued a report card on lawmakers' responses to the group's 35 policy goals for the 2015 legislative session, handing out failing grades on 22 of them.
"It doesn't seem like lawmakers are prioritizing issues that impact the realities of women's lives," said Tara Romano, president of NC Women United.
Romano and others cited a lack of action on legislation to create a "living wage" in the state, to require equal pay for women doing the same jobs and paid family leave and to adopt discrimination protections for pregnant women. They also noted the General Assembly's refusal to expand Medicaid or reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit hurt low-income, single-parent families, many of which are headed by women.
"It's not yet politically acceptable to admit that some just want to punish women for making decisions they just don't like, so we've again heard rhetoric that these laws are for the protection of women, as if second-guessing their private health decisions and forcing them into dangerous economic situations makes women safer," Romano said.
Supporters of the controversial House Bill 2, which was passed in a one-day emergency session in March, have repeatedly said the law was needed to keep men out of women's bathrooms. Lawmakers also have approved more restrictions on abortion providers in recent years, including instituting a 72-hour waiting period last year, saying they were looking out for women's health and safety.
"We must be a state that doesn't just pay lip service to family values but that truly values all families," said Freda Banther Dias of MomsRising.
Romano noted that some lawmakers still believe women work because "it's something for them to do" and not because they have to support their families, and Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, accused his Republican colleagues of "gross insensitivity" toward women. He recalled how legislation he sponsored last year dealing with how colleges report sex assault incidents was shot down by two senators who said female students are putting themselves in risky situations.
"The blatant disregard and disrespect for women that has occurred over the last couple of sessions of this General Assembly," McKissick said, "is something we all should be deeply concerned about."
NC Women United did give lawmakers some credit for strengthening domestic violence protections but said that even those improvements didn't go far enough.