Unfinished business on women’s issues

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, May 8, 2008

By Staff
With the General Assembly about to start its short session, it is important to remind the Legislature of its unfinished business on issues of women’s equality.
North Carolina Women United’s recently released report card on the 2007 Legislature is a good assessment of what was accomplished in 2007 — and a blueprint for what needs to happen on some issues in the upcoming session.
While the report focuses on women, the truth is that many of these measures benefit men as well. What is good for women and families also benefits everybody.
On the whole, last year shows a number of successes in proposals supported by the NCWU coalition in areas of economic security, access to health care, violence against women, and citizen participation and equality. Perhaps the most exciting of these is the state earned income tax credit (EITC). The federal EITC has been shown to be the most effective economic benefit offered by the government to enable working families to emerge from poverty.
Although the state will allow a tax credit of only 3.5 percent of the federal EITC, it will provide a refundable credit to over 800,000 low and moderate-income families. A recent report from the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center showed that the state’s poorest working families pay more out of their income for taxes than those who earn more. The EITC is an offset for this disparate tax burden.
The General Assembly also made progress affecting victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. One move made it a felony to violate a domestic violence protection order while carrying a deadly weapon. Another allows women who are victims of domestic violence or stalking to change their names without a public posting.
The General Assembly deserves credit for this legislation, but there’s a slew of work that wasn’t accomplished.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the failure of the state to provide comprehensive and accurate sex education, including STD and pregnancy prevention. At least 17 states have rejected abstinence-only program funds because states must provide matching funds, and the programs have been shown to be ineffective. At the same time, the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among women has increased, and in North Carolina the decrease in teenage pregnancies has leveled off. The proposal to change the state’s current abstinence-until-marriage curriculum to an abstinence-based comprehensive sexuality education curriculum met bitter opposition and never came to the floor of the Legislature.
Unfortunately this and other domestic violence issues are still with us and need more attention. Some proposals still pending would strengthen domestic violence protective orders while another increases funding for domestic violence programs.
There were some gains and some setbacks made in the area of help for elderly and disabled people. Legislators approved a proposal that establishes a star rating system for adult care homes, a means of giving guidance to families of persons in need of assisted living in choosing a new home that will offer good quality care. Such a system is especially important in trying to select a home from long distance. However, it was disappointing that the increase for the Home and Community Care Block Grant — which funds services that enable elderly and disabled persons to remain at home — was so small, only $536,000. The reality is that $14 million is needed to provide services for the 10,900 people on waiting lists.
There are a host of other issues the General Assembly needs to consider. There are proposals that address the prevention of bullying and harassment in schools, and another, requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to sexual assault victims. Likewise, proposals for paid or unpaid sick days to help the estimated 42 percent of North Carolina’s workers without sick leave that went nowhere last year, should be addressed this session.
It’s time for North Carolina’s elected officials to get to work on this unfinished business.
More information about N.C. Women United may be found at www.ncwu.org.