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Category: Politics, Economy, Health, Immigration, Race/Ethnicity, Reproductive Rights, Violence against Women

Maryland Women’s Agenda for Obama’s Second Term

| January 22, 2013

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Caucus (from left): Adrienne Jones, Cheryl Glenn, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Aisha Braveboy, Ana Sol Gutiérrez, Susan Lee, Joseline Peña-Melnyk

The author checks in with state legislators from the Maryland Women's Caucus to see what they expect from President Barack Obama in his second term.

Women voted overwhelmingly in the 2012 election for President Obama—with 55 percent casting their vote for the president compared to men, who went for Mitt Romney by 52 percent.  As the second Obama term begins, many issues affecting women and their families must be addressed and some old battles must be fought again. 

Women lawmakers across the country are meeting to discuss these issues and strategies to address them.  As varied as women are in this country, there is no one size fits all approach, but speaking to a diverse women’s caucus is one way to get an idea of what women lawmakers in his own party expect from President Obama and legislators in the U.S. House and Senate. I had an opportunity to speak with members of the Maryland Women’s Caucus at the State House in Annapolis—a follow-up to my pre-election discussion with some of their members at last year's Democratic National Convention. 

The bipartisan Maryland Women’s Caucus was founded as the first women’s legislative caucus in the country and now boasts women from many ethnicities and all walks of life.  Delegate Susan C. Lee, an Asian American, says they represent “all types of constituents and bring a unique perspective to change and uplift the lives of their constituents,” including women and people of color.  Some of the hopes and concerns that these women lawmakers would like to see addressed in the second Obama administration are in the areas of health/reproductive rights, human trafficking, immigration, education, economic development and in judicial and cabinet level appointments.

Senator Catherine Pugh, president of the Maryland Women’s Caucus, says that “equal pay for women is still an issue” that must be addressed. The disparity in pay for women needs to be remedied in this term, according to Senator Pugh.  Delegate Susan C. Lee agrees that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama in his first term, was a step in the right direction but now we need to take it further.  The Lilly Ledbetter Act extended the statute of limitations for women and men to file claims of employment discrimination—even years later. But in order to bridge the gender pay gap—where women on average in this country earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns with the same education and doing the same job—Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, stopped by a Senate Republican filibuster in 2012.

It is not surprising that education is a key concern among these women leaders. Maryland ranked number one in the nation in education for the fifth straight year in a row. The United States needs to upgrade its schools in order to complete in this global economy, thus in order to have jobs for tomorrow, we must prepare through education today, according to Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, speaker pro tem in the Maryland House of Delegates. In addition, says Delegate Lee, “education is the great equalizer.”  President Obama in his first term invested heavily in education with increased student loans, Pell Grants and additional funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Delegate Aisha N.  Braveboy states that HBCUs benefit women of all colors and perform a critical role for women, particularly those earning a degree in non-traditional and science and technical fields. 

The Obama Administration must continue to invest in K-12 and higher education.  And paving the way for undocumented immigrants to have access to education also must be a factor. In Maryland, the Dream Act passed in November, 2012, allowing undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition. “These young kids also need to be educated,” says Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk.

In 2012 President Obama won the Hispanic vote with 44 more percentage points than Romney garnered—eight more percentage points than in 2008. Delegate Ana Sol Gutiérrez, speaking for the Latino and immigrant community, says that comprehensive “immigration reform absolutely has to pass” in President Obama’s second term. Women are affected when their families are torn apart. Gutiérrez wants to see President Obama stop family destruction through deportation. And she believes that he will do it.

President Obama enriched the lives of countless women by signing into law the Affordable Care Act.  Among its many provisions benefitting women are protections for reproductive rights including birth control, mammogram testing for breast cancer and pap tests for cervical cancer.  These protections must be fully funded, says Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a registered nurse. We must ensure that the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. In Maryland there are 700,000 uninsured people, among over 41 million nationwide.

During Obama's first term, women's health care rights were also defended in the courts. Thus it is imperative that President Obama appoints a diverse federal judicial bench according to Delegate Lee, herself an attorney, who says we need exceptional jurists and ones who have experience with our issues. “He can make a real impact by filling the bench with outstanding women jurists,” she says, such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. 

Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery of forced sex or labor, affects hundreds of thousands of adult and child victims yearly in the United States and must be addressed with greater protections for victims in a second Obama term.  Delegate Lee says that Maryland is “one of the states that has taken a lead on human trafficking.” Lee says that over the years, Maryland has passed a number of bills against human trafficking and protecting its victims. And Maryland will continue to do so this year, according to Lee. 

Many changes are already taking place in the second Obama Administration.  Several cabinet members are leaving, including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Delegate Susan Lee says that, because women bring a different perspective to government, President Obama’s highest priority should be putting more women in his cabinet.

President Obama in his second term has a chance to further enrich the lives of women in this country. And these women legislators believe that he will continue to fight for women and their families—defending and strengthening the laws of the first term in such areas as health care and workplace equity and creating new laws to address immigration reform among other issues.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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