Category Archives: State Laws

New Year, New House: Understanding the 116th Congress’s Adopted Rules and What they Mean for the Freshman Class

By Rhian Lowndes

A new year and a new Congress. With 102 women sitting in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate, the United States is seeing unprecedented female power in our national government. Nancy Pelosi calls new members a “transformative Freshman Class” with over a third of House Democrats identifying as people of color and a (marginal but auspicious) growth in religious diversity as well.

With new faces comes change; the House of Representatives has adapted to its new found pluralism by adopting some rules and modifying others to ensure safety and opportunity to all members–maybe I’m giving away my naivety by saying I was surprised that a few of these regulations hadn’t already been established. Still, the following directives are a good sign for the 116th Congress.

  • Banning Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. While discrimination by any Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House is already disallowed, the House has specifically extended the ban to consider prejudice based on sexual orientation or gender identity, creating a safe space for a new generation of representatives.
  • Banning Sexual Relationships Between Members and Committee Staff. Sexual relationships between members and their employees are not tolerated by House rules, but this now includes a prohibition of relationships between members and staffers who are not their direct employees, hopefully eliminating at least some ethical ambiguity surrounding power dynamics in these affairs.
  • Service of Indicted Members in Leadership and on Committees. To avoid leaving corrupt people in positions of power, the House has stated that indicted members, and those charged with criminal conduct for a felony offense punishable by at least two years in prison, should abdicate caucus or conference leadership roles and step down from any committee positions.
  • Requiring Members to Pay for Discrimination Settlements. Members have to pay the Treasury back for any settlement related a violation of sections 201(a)[1], 206(a)[2], or 207[3] of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. This makes members more accountable for their own actions within their government positions.
  • Mandatory Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies for House Offices. Each office within the House has to adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy by April 1st.
  • Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The House has created an Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The Speaker and Minority Leader will select a Director (with recommendations from the Committee on House Administration) and within 150 days the Office must submit a diversity plan for approval. The diversity plan has to include:
    • “(1) policies to direct and guide House offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote and retain a diverse workforce; (2) the development of a survey to evaluate diversity in House offices; (3) a framework for the House of Representatives diversity report; and (4) a proposal for the composition of an Advisory Council to inform the work of the Office.”

A House of Representatives diversity report at the end of each session of Congress is also required.

  • Title II. Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The House is creating a Committee to investigate and develop recommendations on the modernization of Congress. By “modernization” they mean they intend to develop a more efficient Congress, taking into consideration scheduling, recruitment, and technology, but it also means the preservation and advancement of diversity.

There’s much more to peruse among the legislation set for consideration in the new year, but it’s good to see that the House is making way for change. Hosting a vastly different staff from previous Congresses means the House is in a position to make an America for women and minorities, as well as groups who have prospered more easily in the past. Hopefully, these regulations will make that task easier, and we’ll see the difference in months and years to come.

 

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/slideshows/116th-congress-by-party-race-gender-and-religion?slide=5 https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181231/BILLS-116hresPIH-hres6.pdf

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20181231/116-HRes6-SxS-U1.pdf

 

[1] prohibiting discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,… age,…[or] disability”

[2] prohibiting the discrimination of veterans and/or denying them employment or benefits if they are eligible employees

[3] prohibiting the intimidation of employees who participate in hearings or proceedings

Photos from the Boston trans rights rally

“Trans rights are human rights”:
a photo essay.

 

Photo 1: Friends showing support.


The photographer writes: “The 10/28 rally at Government Center was an incredibly interesting experience. It held many of the great aspects of a protest; building of solidarity, the exchange of stories, and the establishment of the existence of those who can stand behind a cause. However the crowd was also incredible diverse, especially in regards to ideologies. There were those who who were more vehement in certain ideas, some where more religious. Some were allies, many were directly affected by what they were protesting for. I don’t believe it would be hard to say some individuals would feel uncomfortable with the presence of certain others. However despite this these people were able to band together to support trans rights. I believe it was a testament to the power of solidarity. I hope these photos captured that diversity.”

Photo 2: Fear. Resistance. The Edge of Violence.


Photo 3: Wide shot of crowd.


Photo 4: Accessibility and joy.


Photo 5: Wonder Woman.


Photo 6: Solidarity, both digital and real.


Photo 7: Love in times of fear.


Photo 8: Religious love.


Photo 9: The sea of support.


Photo 10: Yes on 3!


About the photographer: Danial Shariat is a writer who often branches into different fields and modes of expression, one such field is photography. His work can be seen at danialshariat.com.

Sexual Assault: A Global Issue Part 2

By Kelsie Merrick

In this election, sexual assault has grown to become a controversial topic with allegations coming from all sides. Whether it’s women saying Donald Trump has sexually assaulted them or Hillary Clinton has covered up rape cases. We’ve heard them all, and people and parties from both sides agree with these women or disagree with these women. However, it does not matter if you agree or disagree with any of these allegations because what we should all agree on is that this is an issue that needs to be fixed, not just in the United States but worldwide. The United Nations has been an avid supporter of reducing the violence against women for years. In 1993, the UN General Assembly created the “Declaration for the Elimination of Violence against Women” to provide a framework on how to act against this crisis. However, it’s been over 20 years since that declaration and “1 in 3 women still experience physical or sexual violence.” If that statistic doesn’t sicken you, just know “around 120 million girls worldwide, that’s 1 in 10, have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts” during their lives. The most common perpetrators of these sexual assaults are former husbands, partners or boyfriends.

We can talk about sexual assault all we want, but that won’t change anything. We need action.

 

What Can We Do To End This Violence?

Stand together in protest against our government until they implement better laws like in Argentina. Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) is a movement of women’s rights advocates that began in June of last year. They are fighting against femicide, a crime involving the violent and deliberate killing of a woman, because, in Argentina, a woman is killed every 30 hours. On Wednesday, October 19th there was a mass demonstration held for every woman that has been killed in the past five years, but mainly for a 16-year-old girl by the name of Lucia Perez who was abducted then drugged, raped repeatedly, and sodomized with an ‘unspecified object’ so violently that she eventually bled out from her internal injuries. The United States needs to join the Ni Una Menos movement, and hopefully, together change will occur. In the US, every 109 seconds an American becomes a victim of sexual assault. Every 8 minutes, a child becomes a victim of sexual assault. Think about those numbers for a second. Think about your mother, sister, brother, father, niece, or nephew. In 109 seconds, they could be a victim. Sexual assault happens too frequently for us to not do anything about it.

We need to encourage victims to speak out against the violence done to them and with this, we need to encourage society to not shame them. According to a study by RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 20% of victims do not report sexual assault out of fear of retaliation and 13% don’t report because they believe the police wouldn’t do anything to help. Often when a victim speaks out about assault we hear the excuses of “you were drinking too much” or “you shouldn’t have worn such revealing clothing.” What we should be hearing is “we are here to help you” or “they will not get away with this.”

On top of that, we need to start holding offenders accountable. Out of every 1,000 rapists, only 344 are reported to police. However, from that 344 only six rapists will be incarcerated. Six. Imagine being a victim and knowing these statistics. It’s understandable for them to think nothing will happen. Combine the lack of punishment and victims not reporting, 994 perpetrators walk free. 944 people have gotten away with a disgusting crime. 994 people are able to assault another innocent person.

I was raised learning that we should respect each other and to live by the “golden rule” that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Especially being taught from an older generation that believed men were supposed to treat women respectfully and protect them. Many women from the Feminist Movement will take offense to that statement now because we as women can take care of ourselves and protect ourselves, but honestly, only to a certain extent. When you’re a young girl or are intoxicated, willingly or unwillingly, you are not able to protect yourself against a man that is two or three times your size. Together, every country, every nation, every man and women and innocent child needs to come together so that people don’t get away with these vile and torturous crimes and that they serve the correct sentences.

Sexual Assault Around the World

By Kelsie Merrick

On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, hundreds of women reported being sexually assaulted. I, along with many other people, heard about this and was quite disgusted. It was uncertain as to what would happen to these women and if, when the perpetrators were identified, what would the punishment be. Unfortunately, for them, no one will be held accountable for these actions. When I found this out, I was completely shocked because I know in the United States, for the most part, people are reprimanded for their sexual assault actions. I chose to look more into this topic and here is what I found.

Chantal Louis, an editor at Emma, one of Germany’s oldest feminist magazines, says, “the German law accepts that a man generally has the right to touch a woman, to have sexual intercourse with a woman. It’s his right unless the woman shows her resistance very, very strongly.” In the logic of German law, if touching of a woman’s breasts or vagina happens quickly, the law will not punish the perpetrator because the victim did not have enough time to resist the action. As far as the law is concerned, the issue is not verbal consent. The law requires that there be a “threat of imminent danger to life and limb.” That is, if a woman, or any person for that matter, cannot prove with their body (with bruises or other injuries) that they fought back, then the assault is not a crime. In Die Zeit, a German newspaper, a male German defense lawyer reported, “a woman must carry her ‘no’ through. We [men] can hardly know with a simple ‘no,’ whether she really means it.” According to national statistics, “between 7,000 and 8,000 rapes are reported every year.” BFF, a national association of women’s help groups based in Berlin, believes these numbers only represent 5% of the real number of cases. BFF also states, “only 13% of rape cases result in convictions.” One possible explanation for this is the law’s limitations.

Interestingly enough, in German workplace it is clear that “it’s not OK for someone to touch you, to try to kiss you, to lay a hand on your back.” This is called “sexual harassment at the workplace” and every women and man knows it is unacceptable. Heike Lütgart, a criminologist and career police officer with decades of experience investigating gender-based violence, says that not having a law outside of the workforce is a tremendous problem for women because they do not realize that they do not have this protection.

After reading about the laws in Germany surrounding sexual assault, I became curious about how the three most populated countries handled sexual assault. In China, they recently overturned a law that “mandated a more lenient punishment for men who had sex with girls under the age of 14 if they could ‘prove’ that they paid the girl for sex.” There is now a heavy mandatory penalty for this crime with the highest punishment being the death penalty. India passed a new Anti-Rape bill in April of 2013. This bill includes crimes such as acid violence, stalking, and voyeurism. Attackers can be charged anywhere between 14 years in prison to the death sentence for extreme cases. The bill states that even if the victim does not physically struggle, that does not constitute as consent. Unfortunately, marital rape is still legal, but the age of consent was raised from 16 to 18.

I then looked at the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 percent of U.S. women experience some kind of unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime. The Model Penal code, the go-to documents for lawmakers rewriting their criminal laws, still allows for men to rape their wives, but this “marital exemption” has been outlawed in all 50 states since the 1990s. It was not until about the middle of the 20th century that victims needed to prove their chastity for their cases to be taken seriously. In the United States, forty-three states and the District of Columbia specify that unwanted sexual contact is prohibited. Five states have laws prohibiting battery, public indecency or “lewd and lascivious” behavior. Mississippi and Idaho, on the other hand, do not have “criminal laws that clearly forbid unwanted sexual touching such as groping and fondling.” In 2013, Mississippi’s Democratic state Republic Kimberly Campbell proposed a bill to create a misdemeanor crime called “indecent assault.” This bill would handle adult fondling cases, which could prevent future crimes by stopping the act early. The bill died due to the fact the bill was too vague with the explanation of intent and opponents feared that the bill could “criminalize accidental touching or bumping.” On the other hand, there has been an indecent assault law in Pennsylvania since the 1970s. Deputy District Attorney Janet Necessary says that she takes several dozen of these cases a year. Her office has used this law to prosecute cases involving supervisors who have sexually harassed their workers in a physical way.

We, the citizens of the United States, need to work together to first, create a universal law across all 50 states to protect unwanted sexual touching/assaults against women and men. Second, eventually, spread this idea to other countries so that no human being has to live through such an uncomfortable situation.

The Importance of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

By Kelsie Merrick

In 1973, Roe v. Wade was, and still is, a controversial case that passed through the Supreme Court. The ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally unless a woman was in the third trimester then the state had a right to enact abortion regulations to protect the fetus. The only exception to this rule was if the pregnancy was a threat to the mother’s life. Then in 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey reintroduced the controversy around abortion this time about whether consent from a spouse or parent and a 24 hour waiting period is necessary before an abortion. In this case, the court ruled that “states may not impose an ‘undue burden’ on access to abortion: a law is invalid ‘if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.'” Now, abortion has reentered our court system with the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case.

In previous abortion cases, there has been a clear argument with two clear sides: pro-life and pro-choice. That is, the concern has generally been about the baby not about the mother, but with the introduction of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt the conversation is shifting from the baby to the safety of the mother. This case began in 2013 when Texas created a law requiring “doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away, and set clinic standards that are similar to those of surgical centers.” Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider, argues, “the law isn’t medically necessary, is demanding and expensive, and interferes with women’s health care.”

Since 2011, “at least 162 abortion providers have shut or stopped offering the procedure” with at least 30 of those closures coming from Texas alone. One of the main reasons behind the closures was the new state regulations that have made these facilities too expensive to remain in operation. Texas is the primary case study of these new regulations and the repercussions of stricter regulations are already noticeable. According to certain providers, “full implementation of the law would leave almost a fifth of Texas women 150 miles or more from a facility.” Texas has already dropped from 42 to 19 clinics since 2013 and if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the new law, Texas would be left with nine abortion clinics. This is a problem for women who need an abortion, whether it is for personal or health reason, and are incapable of traveling that far. A more serious problem caused by the extreme distances of abortion clinics is that “more women would now die of complications from self-induced abortions.”

Another issue facing the abortion world is the discriminating views that then lead to the vandalism of buildings and clinics. Susan Cahill from Kalispell, Montana was unable to rebuild her practice after it was vandalized due to the cost of repairs. Planned Parenthood, one of the leading abortion clinics, has had their fair share of tormenting and vandalism from people protesting outside to fires being started at their facilities. About a third of the facilities that closed or stopped performing terminations were operated by Planned Parenthood. This is detrimental to Planned Parenthood’s operation as a whole since their main goal is not to give abortions but to education society, mainly young adults, about safe sex and contraceptives available to the public.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were “210 abortions for every 1,000 births in the United States.” Even with abortions being almost one-fifth of the births that year, abortions are decreasing without implemented regulations. Since 2010, the Associated Press estimates abortions have decreased 12 percent. Possible explanations for this could be that teen pregnancy rates are decreasing which leads to the reason for more access to birth control. If abortion rates are already decreasing, is it necessary to regulate the clinics? On the other hand, verifying that clinics are safe and healthy and that properly trained doctors are performing the surgeries is also highly beneficial to women that need and want an abortion. Hopefully, the Supreme Court can figure out how to ensure women’s safety without the closure of abortion clinics.

Wendy Davis vs. Texas Abortion Bill

Wendy Davis, feminist superhero

Unless you’ve been avoiding the news for the past twenty-four hours, you’ve heard the name Wendy Davis mentioned. On Tuesday, Davis stood up to the senate in an effort to filibuster a Texas bill on abortion that would provide even more limitations on a woman’s right to control her own body.

The bill would add further restrictions on abortion clinics around the state, including banning any abortion after the twenty-week marker and require all but five abortion clinics in Texas to be closed. The women who so badly need access to abortion to clinics would no longer be able to get to them.

Ms. Davis was nineteen when she had her first child, but managed to get herself from a trailer park all the way through Harvard Law School and eventually to the Texas Senate. “She’s carrying every woman in the state of Texas, if you will, on her shoulder,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

If Davis’ filibuster successfully continued till midnight, the legislature would be unable to take a final vote and thus successfully block the bill.

The rules regarding filibusters in the state degree that Davis had to remain on topic the entire time, was unable to lean on any additional support (including a desk or a chair), and could not pause for a bathroom break, food or water. After three strikes the filibuster could be called off.

Davis’ first strike came when she discussed Planned Parenthood’s budget, which according to the legislature did not pertain to the bill being discussed. The second when after standing for almost seven hours, Davis had a colleague help her adjust a back brace. Davis received her final strike when she discussed the current laws requiring a woman to have a sonogram before a doctor will perform an abortion.

When the Senate called an end to the Davis’ filibuster, state Senator Leticia Van De Putte spoke up saying “at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” resulting in shouts of support throughout the chamber.

Despite the senate’s attempt to silence Davis, her efforts resulted in the bills final votes being taken at 12:03, three minutes too late for SB 5 to be passed as a law.

Throughout this ordeal Wendy Davis got countless supporters. Tweets vary from actor Mark Ruffalo to president Barack Obama showing their support of Davis with hashtags such as #StandWithWendy. Her salmon colored sneakers that she apparently threw on as she ran out the door have become a symbol of her stand.

But why is it that a woman’s right to control her body is still being discussed? When was the last time a man had to stand for eleven hours so that he could have control of his own body?

And then to add to this, the protestors supporting a woman’s right to control her own body were called terrorists by Texas Republican legislator Bill Zedler.

Since when did fighting for what should be your right make you a terrorist? People are furious and for good reason – it’s 2013 and women are still forced to fight for their right to choose.

The fight isn’t over, but at least people are listening.

See other articles on Wendy Davis and the Texas filibuster at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio.