Update on Federal Public Policy Issues

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Source: AAUW Public Policy & Government Relations Dept.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LAF Plaintiff on CNN
Minimum Wage Increase Fails Despite Majority Support in Senate
Child Custody Protection Act Rears its Ugly Little Head Again
Supreme Court Does the Right Thing for Workers
Court Ruling Strengthens Domestic Violence Prosecutions
States Get Stuck with Medicare Prescription Drug Bill
Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Federal Abortion Ban Case
Schedule Appointments with your Members of Congress During Recess
Americans Support Access to Information About Birth Control
Equal Pay Self-Audit
Increasing Dropout Rates?
Department of Education Announces Grants to Invest in Science and Math Education

LAF Plaintiff on CNN
The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund (LAF) supported plaintiff Charlene McMahon was the subject of a story on CNN in her case against Carroll College in Wisconsin. In 2000, Carroll College hired McMahon in a tenure-track position. McMahon and two men were recommended for tenure by her department chair and by the college’s promotion and tenure committee at the same time. A short while after the committee’s favorable recommendation, McMahon learned that she was pregnant and informed the college administration of this new development. In early 2003, the college’s board of trustees granted tenure to the two men, but denied tenure to McMahon. McMahon maintains that she was at least as qualified as the two male applicants in her department. Not mentioned in the story was LAF’s support of McMahon’s case, nor was the effort put in by AAUW to get CNN to produce this story mentioned.

Minimum Wage Increase Fails Despite Majority Support in Senate
The Kennedy Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour failed despite a majority (52-46) voting for it. A super majority of 60 was required to pass the amendment because it was proposed for an unrelated bill. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted (32-27) to add a $2.10 per-hour minimum wage increase to the Labor-HHS-Education FY07 Appropriations bill. However, there is reason to believe the minimum wage increase will be stripped from the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill when it reaches the House floor. A majority of minimum wage workers are women who would be the primary beneficiaries of a minimum wage increase. AAUW supports increasing the federal minimum wage to narrow the gender wage gap.

Child Custody Protection Act Rears its Ugly Little Head Again
Earlier this week, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) filed the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA) as a amendment to Senator Kennedy’s (D-MA) minimum wage amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act. The CCPA amendment was eventually withdrawn in favor of a Republican-backed amendment on a minimum wage increase. The so-called “Child Custody Protection Act” would make it a federal crime for any person other than a parent or legal guardian to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion, thereby avoiding parental involvement laws in her home state. Anyone other than the minor’s parent, such as a grandparent, aunt, or religious counselor, could be convicted under the proposed law. AAUW supports safe and accessible reproductive health options for all women. This legislation would deny minors facing unintended pregnancies the assistance of trusted adults and would endanger minors’ health and safety.

Supreme Court Does the Right Thing for Workers
On Thursday, June 22, the Supreme Court issued a decision on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. v. Sheila White, a sexual harassment case previously reported on in the April 21, 2006 issue of Washington Update. The court’s ruling eases the legal standard for showing retaliation against employees who file sexual harassment complaints. White, the plaintiff, complained that the transfer to a more strenuous job was retaliation to punish her for complaining about harassment and discrimination, and filed a report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Soon after, she was suspended without pay for insubordination for 37 days. While the ruling was unanimous, Justice Samuel Alito issued his own opinion disagreeing with the majority’s interpretation of the anti retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law in question. He said the retaliation definition should be narrowly defined as “only those discriminatory practices” that Title VII forbids, which he agreed was the case for White. Alito’s nomination was opposed by AAUW in part because his record indicated a philosophy that would weaken workplace protections that are central to addressing discrimination again women. AAUW signed an amicus curiae brief in support of White’s case on February 2, 2006.

Court Ruling Strengthens Domestic Violence Prosecutions
On June 19, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors could use statements made by victims to 911 operators or police officers during emergencies if the victims do not testify at the trial. Read the full Associated Press story online. AAUW supports increased flexibility and creative solutions when handling domestic violence cases. Because of the nature of these crimes, many times key witnesses or victims are not willing or available to testify.

States Get Stuck with Medicare Prescription Drug Bill
On Monday, June 19, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block part of the Medicare prescription-drug program that requires states to pay the federal government for most of the money they are expected to save because they no longer must pay for drugs for people in state Medicaid programs who are also enrolled in Medicare. The states still have the option of filing their case in a lower court. Read the full Associate Press story online. Medicare, like Social Security, is an essential part of women’s economic security in retirement. AAUW supports measures to improve the accessibility and affordability of quality health care for women and families.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Federal Abortion Ban Case
On Tuesday, June 20, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a second legal challenge to the constitutionality of the so-called “Partial-Birth Abortions Act of 2003” which is under attack on the grounds of its lack of a health exception, the undue burden it imposes on pregnant women, and its impermissibly vague language. The case will be heard in the Supreme Court’s next term, which begins in October. Three federal district courts have all declared the law unconstitutional. AAUW supports the right of every woman to safe, accessible and comprehensive reproductive health care and believes that decisions concerning reproductive health are personal and should be made without governmental interference.

Schedule Appointments with your Members of Congress During Recess
Members of Congress will be on recess during the week of Independence Day and will be in their home districts from July 1-9. Many members will have town-hall style forums or will be available to meet with constituents at their in-district offices. Use the Elected Officials page on the AAUW website to find the phone number for your members of Congress in-district offices. Ask if they will be holding any town hall forums (encourage your AAUW colleagues to attend) and request appointments to speak with them to discuss AAUW priority issues. In particular, urge your members of Congress to oppose privatizing Social Security. According to a June 17 article in the Wall Street Journal, Josh Bolton, President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, is planning “to lay the groundwork for a renewed effort to reform Social Security.” Let the public policy staff know if you will be having a meeting with any members of your Congressional delegation by e-mailing us at VoterEd@aauw.org.

Americans Support Access to Information About Birth Control
According to a Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive health care poll released on June 20, 89 percent of the adults polled favored more access to information about birth control, and 81% agreed that providing access to birth control is a good way to prevent abortions. Support for confidential access for teens is not as high (46 percent), but is still greater than the 41 percent who opposed such access. AAUW supports access to safe and affordable family planning and reproductive health services for all women. AAUW has been an advocate for access to information about contraception since 1935.

Equal Pay Self-Audit
Women’s Prerogative is urging women to sign a petition urging Fortune 100 Companies to conduct an Equal Pay Self-Audit examining whether they are paying their male and female employees equitably. The petition will be delivered to companies on Labor Day. AAUW supports efforts to close the pay gap and hopes to see the equal pay self-audits done at local and state levels. For information on how to encourage companies in your area to conduct a workplace audit go to AAUW’s website.

Increasing Dropout Rates?
A report released Tuesday, June 20 entitled, “Diplomas Count: An essential Guide to Graduation Rates and Policies” revealed that an alarming one-third of high school dropouts are leaving school before ever entering the tenth grade. The study conducted by the Education Research Center of Education Week newspaper, also found great discrepancies between many dropout rates reported by the states. The study concluded only 69.9 percent of students entering the ninth grade graduate in four years with a regular diploma. Many experts speculate that so many students fail to get past the ninth grade because of poor preparation in the lower grades. AAUW recognizes the impact of pre-elementary and elementary education on success in secondary and higher education and thus remains committed to strengthening No Child Left Behind and programs like Head Start. These elements of our national education system are crucial in promoting equity in early education and serve to diminish the achievement gap in later years which can have damaging long-term effects on our nation’s students.

Department of Education Announces Grants to Invest in Science and Math Education
On Wednesday, June 21, the U.S. Department of Education announced the upcoming availability of Academic Competitiveness Grants and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants. Starting July 1, the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office will be notifying Pell Grant-eligible students of their potential eligibility, and students can start applying for up to $1300 in new Academic Competitiveness grants. Third and fourth year Pell Grant-eligible students who meet requirements, and major in certain designated science, technology, math, and foreign languages, will automatically receive the National SMART Grant during the 2006-07 school year. For more information on Academic Competitiveness Grants and National SMART Grants, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/competitiveness/ac-smart2.html.