OLYMPIA—The House of Representatives passed a package of bills today that will make a difference in the lives of many Washington women. Some of the issues in these bills have gone through the legislative process in the House before only to meet their demise in the Senate. Sponsors, supporters and advocates hope 2017 is the year they make it to the governor’s desk.
Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), a mother of 3, speaks from experience when she talks about the challenges many women face when working while pregnant. That was one of the reasons she brought the issue to Olympia last biennium, and introduced it again this year.
“Women shouldn’t have to choose between being able to work and provide for their families, and having a healthy pregnancy. Under this measure, both employers and employees will have more clarity on what they can expect with regards to workplace accommodations for expectant mothers. From flexible restroom breaks to flexible scheduling for prenatal visits, reasonable accommodations help give babies a chance at a healthy start in life,” said Farrell.
HB 1796, which passed the House unanimously this morning, would require employers with 15 or more employees to grant reasonable accommodations in the workplace for pregnancy and pregnancy-related health conditions. A “reasonable accommodation” includes more flexible restroom breaks, a modified food/drink policy, and flexible scheduling for prenatal visits. Because every pregnancy is different, the bill states an employer shall take into consideration requests for reasonable accommodation not specifically defined within the bill.
Providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers leads to better birth outcomes, healthier mothers and babies, less turnover in the workplace, and more opportunities for women, especially in physically demanding jobs.
Shared Leave for Pregnancy
The Shared Leave Program allows state employees to share annual and sick leave, or personal holidays with fellow state employees who are ill, injured or impaired, are victims of domestic or sexual violence, assist in state emergencies, or are called to serve in our armed forces.
Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett) thinks that list should be expanded. Her legislation (HB 1434), which passed on a 68-30 vote, would let a state worker receive donated personal holidays, and annual or sick leave if the employee is sick or unable to safely work during pregnancy or for parental leave.
“What this bill does is pretty human. It allows state employees to help coworkers who are struggling with their pregnancies, or want to spend more time to bond with their newborn or adopted babies, by sharing their leave, which is really the gift of time,” said Robinson. “And it will result in healthier moms, healthier babies, and more economically secure families.”
Consistent Access to Birth Control
In line with her commitment to the well-being of women and families, Rep. June Robinson brought back a bill to ensure consistent access to contraception, an issue that would radically improve the lives of many women in Washington. HB 1234, which passed on a 93-5 vote this afternoon, will allow women to receive 12 months of contraception at one time, giving them greater and more consistent access to birth control.
“This is significantly more convenient than having to go to a pharmacy every month, especially for women who juggle busy schedules, which hundreds of thousands of women in the state do every day,” said Robinson about her bill, an issue the House passed last year with strong bipartisan support, but which did not get the Senate’s endorsement. “We should trust women to do what’s right for their lives and their bodies. Practical, long-term access to contraception is essential to building healthy families and communities.”
Consistent access to birth control helps ensure that women do not miss doses, which can result in unintended pregnancies, which, in turn, can create greater risks for preterm birth and low birth weight.
Preventive Health Services
On a 70-28 vote, the House also passed HB 1523, another Robinson bill, requiring health plans to cover, with no cost sharing, the same preventive services that are required by federal law as of December 31, 2016, which include:
- Several immunizations.
- Autism screening for children.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol screenings.
- Screenings for diabetes, colorectal cancer, and HIV, among others.
- Contraception for women.
“Access to preventive services saves lives, strengthens communities and drives down health costs,” Robinson said. “This bill ensures that these services continue to be accessible and affordable to all residents in the state of Washington, no matter what happens elsewhere in the country.”
These four bills are now headed to the Senate for further consideration.