McKee signs multiple bills supporting women’s health, equity

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee signed five bills into law on Wednesday that support women’s health and equity.

McKee held a signing ceremony at the State House, along with several of each bill’s sponsors and women’s advocates.

“Today Rhode Island is closing a number of discriminatory and eliminating a collection of practices that have unfairly impacted women for generations,” McKee said on the State House steps.

“And while there’s still much more work to do, I’m proud to stand here today and say that with each bill we sign into law, we’re making progress,” he added.

The first bill (2021-S 0270A2021 H 5261A) will ensure pay equity for all employees, regardless of gender or ethnicity.

Rep. Susan Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), who helped sponsor the bill, said Rhode Island’s former equal pay law barring wage discrimination based on sex had not been updated in more than half a century.

“Being a victim of wage discrimination early in my career made this legislation personal to me,” Donovan said.

“This bill represents hundreds of hours of collective work on compromise between the advocates and the business community, so going forward women and people of color will no longer have to suffer demoralization and financial loss pay discrimination brings to individuals and families,” she added.

The second bill (2021-S 0003A2021-H 5763) will ban health insurers from using gender rating, a discriminatory practice of charging women and men different premiums for individual insurance.

Bill sponsor Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), said she’s introduced the gender rating bill for a decade.

“Women are sometimes charged 10% to 25% to 50% more than men for health insurance providing identical coverage, especially during the age bracket associated with child bearing years” Sosnowski said.

“Equal rights mean equal cost, as well as equal pay. This bill is a huge step that will end gender discrimination in healthcare in Rhode Island,” she added.

The third bill (2021-S 0086A2021-H 5083A) will require all public schools to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost to students in grades 5-12.

“With its passage, we have ensured the end of period poverty in Rhode Island public schools,” bill sponsor Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) said.

Rep. Carol Hagan-McEntee also sponsored the bill in the House.

“There isn’t a young woman or an older woman in Rhode Island who hasn’t experienced a humiliating accident in school along the way as you’re growing up, and we all know how difficult that can be,” Hagan-McEntee said.

“Putting the sweatshirt around the waist, and it goes down the line. But now, young girls will know exactly where to go, to the ladies room where they always should have been able to go, to get the products they need to take care of the situation,” she added.

The fourth bill (2021-S 00602021-H 5289) will allow candidates for office to use campaign funds for child care while they are participating in campaign or officeholder activities.

“Being in the House of Representatives in Rhode Island has been such an honor for me, and I would never want anyone not to be able to have that opportunity to speak for their experiences because they can’t afford childcare,” bill sponsor Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) said.

The fifth bill (2021-S 0062Aaa2021-H 5370Aaa) will protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence by allowing people to request that their insurers send health communications directly to them instead of a parent or spouse.

“These explanation of benefits as they’re called, the bills and more that tell you what you did at the doctor’s office can prevent women, especially in domestic violence situations, from seeking medical or mental health care, and they can prevent young adults from seeking reproductive care,” bill sponsor Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence) said.

“This all will ensure that all patients can make decisions about their own health without fear,” Goldin added.

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