State Democrats announce slate of women’s health bills

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HARRISBURG — Legislators in an informal women’s health caucus unveiled a slate of bills Wednesday on topics such as pay-equity lawsuits, the publishing of nude photos and the creation of buffer zones keeping protesters from health clinics.

The lawmakers who appeared at a Capitol news conference were Democrats — the minority party in both the House and Senate — though the caucus counts Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, as a co-chair and is promoting legislation by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, aimed at helping victims of domestic violence.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, a co-chair of the caucus, said the proposals are intended to serve as a positive agenda for a group whose members have focused more recently on trying to deflect restrictions on abortion rights.

“Those of us who will lead on these issues going forward have been playing a lot of defense,” he said. “We’ve seen a steady assault on women’s reproductive health care, but we know that women’s health goes beyond reproductive rights.”

In June, Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law a bill restricting health care policies sold through the insurance exchange from covering abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of a woman.

The bill by Mr. Stephens, which would ban municipal ordinances punishing residents or landlords for calls to the police in cases of crime or emergency, was reported out of committee Wednesday. Such ordinances can leave victims of domestic violence facing eviction for calling 911, Mr. Stephens said in a memo to House members.

Several proposals involve the workplace. Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, and others plan to introduce bills to delineate the reasons — such as education, training and experience, according to a memo seeking legislative support — for which employers can pay different wages and to protect employees from being punished for discussing their compensation.

Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, is putting forward a bill requiring employers to accommodate needs related to pregnancy, and a bill by Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, would require employers to provide a private, sanitary place for mothers to pump breast milk.

The Affordable Care Act includes this requirement for many workers, but not for salaried employees who are not entitled to overtime pay, said Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Pittsburgh office of the Women’s Law Project.

Business groups sounded a cautionary note about the pay equity bill, saying they want to see what exactly it proposes.

“Clearly, employers need to create workplaces that are accommodating for all of these individuals, male and female, and create an equitable pay structure,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “But it really gets into the details. Creating an extensive set of regulations to determine that can often prove problematic.”

The sole proposals related to abortion would create 15-foot buffer zones around health care facilities where protests and demonstrations would not be allowed. Pittsburgh already has such a restriction.

While the proposal is prompted by protests at facilities that perform abortions, it would apply to any health facility, allowing the restriction to be “content neutral and viewpoint neutral,” Ms. Frietsche said.

Another proposal would make it a crime to publish a photo or video identifying a person who is naked or engaged in a sexual act, unless that person gives permission.

Spokesmen for House and Senate Republicans said the proposals will be reviewed in committee.

Karen Langley:, 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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