Democratic Washington State Rep. Jessyn Farrell has a message for Republicans who claim they're pro-women and pro-family: "It's one thing to say you stand with women, but you have to be really willing to take action to do that."
So far, the Republican-controlled state senate is showing little appetite for action. That body has two days left to vote on a bill supported by Farrell and other Democrats providing new protections for pregnant women in the workplace. So far, they've failed to take up the bill. If they continue to do nothing, it will die.
The proposal in question would require businesses to offer pregnant workers "reasonable accommodations" like access to water, rest, and bathroom breaks as well as scheduling flexibility for things like pre-natal doctor's appointments. Predictably, it faced backlash from business groups.
In response, state senators watered down the bill. The original version included a lengthy list of accommodations and said the law wouldn't be limited to those accommodations. That made it flexible and worker-friendly. The senate limited those accommodations to a short list:
(a) More frequent, longer, or flexible restroom, food, and water breaks; (b) seating; and (c) limits on lifting over twenty pounds.
Rachel Berkson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, which supports the bill, says that's unworkable.
"Having been pregnant myself," she says, "there are a lot of different things that happen during pregnancy that you cannot predict and that cannot be contained to a list."
Senators also voted to exempt nonprofit employers and businesses with fewer than 15 employees. (According to NARAL, nonprofits alone cover 9.5 percent of workers in Washington state.)
When the senate sent its watered down version of the bill to the house, representatives there added some of the original details back into the bill with compromises. But when that version got back over to the senate, Republicans didn't bring it up for a vote. Now, the end of the regular session on Thursday is looming. Last week was the deadline for bill passage, but nothing is ever truly dead until the session is over. Senators could still approve the house's version of the bill or hash out a compromise. If they do nothing, the bill is dead.
Farrell, the original house sponsor of the bill, doesn't sound hopeful.
"I think it's a long shot," she says. "I'm not going to say never because we're trying to get a bill negotiated and compromised on, but we're up against the clock."
In a last-ditch effort to move the senate, advocates are leaning on moderate Republicans and those who claim to be pro-family.
"They've really put themselves out there as being moderate Republicans who stand up on issues of women's rights," Berkson says. "It's not enough for them to vote for the one version in the senate that came before them. We want to see this become law. They have power in their caucus to make this happen."
Want to help?
Step 1: Harass these Republicans:
Steve Litzow, Bellevue
Joe Fain, Auburn
Andy Hill, Redmond
Michael Baumgartner, Spokane
(Berkson says Baumgartner has often touted his support for children and families. "There's no reason he shouldn't help see this bill to the finish line unless he prioritizes business interests over women's and children's interests," she says.)
Step 2: Help take the state senate back from these clowns.