As the dumpster fire that is 2017 comes to a close, it's time to look back at everything that went down over the last 12 months. That includes examining those pieces of legislation that may have made life better or worse for parents in the United States. To start, let's take a look at the five best laws that passed in 2017 that affected mothers.
On the federal level, President Donald Trump has yet to sign into law a bill that protect the parental rights. Quite the contrary, as detailed by Newsweek, Trump and the Republican-controlled legislature have supported policies dismantling access to preventive and prenatal care, relaxing gun control to the detriment of abuse survivors, and cutting taxes that favor the wealthy. But where the Trump administration failed to protect mothers and their families, states have swooped in to fill in the gap. From protecting birth control to strengthening gun control, states from Massachusetts to Rhode Island have shown mothers this year what it means to care about the families that live within your borders.
And if these laws are any indication, families across the country could look forward to more states taking a stand against the Trump administration in 2018.
Massachusetts' Free Birth Control Law
There are many reasons why someone would use birth control. You may want to prevent pregnancy or clear up acne. Or you may want to treat symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Whatever the case, birth control is necessary preventive medicine for millions of people in the United States, including mothers.
Under the Affordable Care Act, everyone with insurance has access to contraception as preventive care at no cost. In October, after Republicans failed to dismantle the ACA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rolled back the ACA's birth control mandate, according to Mashable.
Residents of Massachusetts, though, have nothing to worry about. Last month, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that guarantees access to birth control without a copay, according to MassLive. That means moms of the New England state can continue to plan their family as they see fit.
California's Child Care Subsidy Law
If you're a parent, you're unlikely to be able to afford child care in the United States. The costs are so astronomical that most families spend nearly one-quarter of their income on child care. Other parents are forced to quit their jobs because they can't afford the expense in the first place.
That's why state-subsidized child care programs are so vital to working families. But lawmakers continue to chip away at the benefit: The Center for Law and Social Policy reported that spending on child care assistance dropped to a 12-year low of $11.3 billion. And, the number of children who received child care subsidies reached a 16-year low in 2014, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
California decided to take the opposite approach: Assembly Bill 273, a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, will expand eligibility requirements for subsidized child care to low-income parents pursing a GED or taking ESL class, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. That means immigrant mothers or teen parents will be able to focus on their studies without the financial stress. The law goes into effect in January.
Nebraska's Legislative Bill 427
Teen parents face a number of challenges, including barriers to pursuing an education. Only 40 percent of teenage moms graduate from high school, while 35 percent of community college students who have kids during their studies complete their degree, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Many of the challenges pregnant and parent students face stem from a lack of supportive policies. Although Title IX protects students from sex discrimination — including on the basis of pregnancy and parental status — that doesn't mean schools actively ensure the rights of teen moms and dads. That's why Nebraskan lawmakers recently passed Legislative Bill 427 in a 31-7 vote, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The law requires schools to outline how they plan to address the challenges pregnant and parenting teens face, including breastfeeding policies and child care access.
Of course, a written policy does not guarantee a school will follow through. But the Nebraska legislature has, at least, forced school administrators to reckon with the way they treat teen parents, which will hopefully lead to better practices that support learning and parenthood.
Rhode Island's Protect RI Families Act
Each year, at least 2,000 people are killed because of domestic violence, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 70 percent of those victims are women, including mothers. And weapon used in more than half of intimate partner homicides? A gun, according to the Trace.
Since there is a strong connection between deadly domestic violence and firearms, some states are passing laws restricting an abuser's access to guns. Rhode Island added its name to the list this year when state lawmakers passed the Protect RI Families Act in October, according to RI Future. The legislation will ban anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from owning a firearm. The law also includes a provision that requires offenders to surrender physical possession of all firearms if their victim has filed a protective order against them. Seven other states passed similar laws this year, according to Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America: Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah.
Despite studies showing that the rate of domestic violence homicide drops with stricter firearm laws, conservative lawmakers continue to rally against gun control. But state laws that buck the GOP line of thinking, like the one in Rhode Island, show mothers that their lives are being put first.
Massachusetts' Workplace Accommodations For Pregnant Workers Law
Federal law protects pregnant and parenting workers from being denied employment, fired, retaliated against, or refused accommodations — rights affirmed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a 2014 guidance for employers.
Yet, despite these protections, pregnancy discrimination persists. The EEOC and state labor practice agencies received nearly 31,000 pregnancy discrimination complaints between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. The advocacy group also reported that, in 2014, employers denied accommodation requests from more than one-quarter million pregnant workers.
To address this pervasive discrimination, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bipartisan bill in July that guarantee pregnant employees reasonable on-the-job accommodations when needed. With this law, which goes into effect April 1, Massachusetts joins 21 other states, plus the District of Columbia, that have reinforced pregnant workers' rights.
BONUS: Paid Sick Days Laws
Research from the Center for Law and Social Policy has shown that offering paid sick days keeps workers in their jobs and businesses earning a profit. Yet, employers and lawmakers continue to push back against the paid sick leave, despite it making good economic sense. Nevertheless, states and cities have taken it upon themselves to legislate the benefit: This year, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state have all passed laws requiring all companies to offer workers paid sick days, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
As Republican lawmakers continue to push laws that hurt parents and restrict reproductive rights, the more state lawmakers will have to fight back to protect families in their state. Let's hope they can follow through next year.
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