Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 202, essentially a reversal of Wisconsin's Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (Act 20), into law on April 5, 2012, more than a month after the bill was passed. Despite Walker's attempts to sign the bill in secret, without the customary notice given to legislators and the public, the move did not go unnoticed and was rapidly drawn up into the national battle over what women's advocates and leading Democrats have dubbed a national "war on women."
The Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), spoke to CNN on Sunday: "the focus of the Republican Party on turning back the clock for women really is something that's unacceptable and shows how callus and insensitive they are towards women's priorities." An Obama campaign representative, Lis Smith, presented a question: "Does Romney think women should have ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers? Or does he stand with Governor Walker against this?"
While there is no doubt that Democrats at the national and state levels are using this issue for political advantage, GOP and right-wing media claims that there is no war on women does not pass the laugh test.
Walker Guts Equal Pay for Equal Work Act
According to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health, (WAWH) the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (Act 20) sought, "to secure equal pay for the thousands of working families who are denied fair pay due to wage discrimination based on race and gender." Women in Wisconsin now make, on average, 79 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. The act was intended to deter employers from discriminating by opening an avenue to bring cases to state court with stiff penalties. Previously, victims were required to pursue lengthy administrative remedies through a state agency. SB 202 removed the compensatory and punitive damages for violations of Act 20, leaving it a toothless tiger. Act 20 was implemented to protect not only women, but other protected groups as well, such as racial minorities and people with disabilities.
While Walker characterized the equal pay act as a "gravy train" for trial lawyers, Sara Finger, executive director of WAWH, characterized it as a, "demoralizing attack on women's rights, health, and wellbeing." "Economic security is a women's health issue," she said. "The salary women are paid directly affects the type and frequency of health care services they are able to access. At a time when women's health services are becoming more expensive and harder to obtain, financial stability is essential to maintain steady access."
Grothman: "Money is More Important for Men"
For his part, the author of the bill, Republican Senator Glenn Grothman doesn't believe that ladies should fret about things like economic security. Grothman explained the bill to the Daily Beast: "You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true."
Repealing Equal Pay for Equal Work isn't Grothman's only bill affecting women in the past year, he also authored SB 507 which would make single parenthood an official contributing factor to child abuse. The bill has been criticized as a demonization of single moms, and failed to pass.
National Review: War what War?
This week, the editors of the National Review stood up for Walker and company declaring, "There is No War on Women in Wisconsin."
However, for many who live here, the ground war started shortly after Walker was sworn in.
- Act 10, Walker's controversial collective bargaining bill, eliminated the rights of nurses, child care workers, and teachers to collectively bargain, while exempting cops, firefighters, and bus drivers. Does anyone see a pattern here?
- Walker signed a law preempting a modest sick leave ordinance for Milwaukee's restaurant workers, a largely female work force earning poverty wages.
- Walker's budget included unprecedented cuts to education and health care, disproportionately affecting women and children.
- Walker's budget bill repealed the 2009 "contraceptive equity" law that required health insurance plans in the state that cover prescription drugs to include contraceptives.
- Walker's budget completely eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood. Later his government website started directing women towards a faith-based "crisis pregnancy center" whose aim is to "share the love and truth of Jesus Christ."
- Walker signed a law eliminated all funding for Title V, the only state-funded family health care program that provides health care services to the uninsured, access to birth control, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and a variety of cancer screenings for both men and women.
- Last week, Walker signed SB 92 banning private insurance coverage for abortion.
- Walker signed SB 237, which repealed Wisconsin's comprehensive sex ed law and will bring failed abstinence-only sex education back to Wisconsin classrooms, even though the teen pregnancy rate dropped 16 percent in the past few years.
- Walker signed SB 306 adding new restrictions to abortion access and creating criminal penalties for doctors providing safe and legal care.
Now that the legislature is out of session, the shelling has stopped, but the damage could be long term.