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Governor McKee Signs Multiple Bills Supporting Women's Health and Equity

PROVIDENCE, RI Governor Dan McKee was joined by Representatives Justine A. Caldwell, Susan Donovan, Carol Hagan McEntee, and Katherine S. Kazarian; Senators Gayle Goldin, Valarie J. Lawson, and V. Susan Sosnowski; House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi; Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio; and women's advocates and organizations today for the ceremonial signing of multiple pieces of legislation that will support women's health and equity in Rhode Island.

"I'm proud to support women's health and equity. Today, Rhode Island is closing a number of discriminatory gaps and eliminating a collection of practices that have unfairly impacted women for generations," said Governor Dan McKee. "Thank you to the remarkable and dedicated group of legislators who worked day-in and day-out to ensure that these bills became law, and to the advocates whose tireless work and spirit ensured that this progress continues."

The first bill (2021-S 0270A, 2021 H 5261A) ensures pay equity for all employees, regardless of gender or ethnicity.

?"I have experienced first-hand what it's like to be paid unequally when you are doing comparable work," said Rep. Susan Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), bill sponsor. "It's a devastating blow, both emotionally and financially, for so many women and people of color across Rhode Island. Women work just as hard as our counterparts to advance our careers and support our families, and we deserve to be compensated equally. This bill has been my priority since my first term in the legislature, and I am thrilled to see it pass the General Assembly."

"This legislation provides employees a more effective, realistic set of tools for addressing unfair pay practices, and it helps our state identify unequal pay where it occurs," said Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), bill sponsor. "While we have always known wage disparity is a problem, the pandemic has forced a disproportionate number of women out of the workforce completely, compounding the inequity women already faced. This bill will go a long way toward addressing the gaping holes in our existing fair pay laws and establishing financial stability for Rhode Island employees and their families."

The second bill (2021-S 0003A, 2021-H 5763) bans health insurers from using gender rating, a discriminatory practice of charging women and men different premiums for individual insurance.

"Women face unconscionable disparities when buying health insurance in the individual market," said Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), bill sponsor. "Women sometimes are charged 10 percent to 25 percent to 50 percent more than men for insurance providing identical coverage, especially during the age bracket associated with child-bearing years."

"The discrimination that women have faced when it comes to the costs of health insurance has existed for far too long and needs to end," said Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), bill sponsor. "If we truly value the positive impacts of regular healthcare, there is no reason women should be discriminated against and forced to pay much higher rates for their medical care. This bill will eliminate this gross injustice and finally bring women in our state the healthcare equality that they rightfully deserve."

The third bill (2021-S 0086A, 2021-H 5083A) will require all public schools to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost.

"We all know how necessary feminine hygiene products are, but what many people do not realize, and I see this as a long time educator, is that a lack of access to these products can cause students to miss crucial school days. These products are a daily necessity to so many students and just as schools provide toilet paper for the bathrooms, these products should also be readily accessible for our students in need," said Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), bill sponsor.

"These products are not luxuries, they are necessities for many of our students. If soap and paper towels are available in bathrooms, so should feminine hygiene products, it's as simple as that. This bill will prevent the embarrassment suffered by our students who have an accident during the school day and afford them the dignity that they deserve," said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), bill sponsor.

The fourth bill (2021-S 0060, 2021-H 5289) will allow candidates for office to use campaign funds for child care while they are participating in campaign or officeholder activities.

"Rhode Island is better served when our elected officials truly reflect the people they represent, and that includes parents of young children. Child care expenses are a roadblock that excludes people from running for local or state office and participating in the political process," said Senator Goldin, bill sponsor. "You shouldn't have to be wealthy to run for office."

"While child care can be a concern for potential candidates of any gender, it is a consideration that can deter many women from running for office. Guaranteeing the legitimacy of using campaign funds in this way can help to encourage more women to run, bringing valuable perspective to state and local government. Child care that enables a candidate to perform their political or officeholder activities is a necessity, so of course it should be recognized as a valid campaign expense," said Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), bill sponsor.

The fifth bill (2021-S 0062Aaa, 2021-H 5370Aaa) will protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence by allowing people to request that their insurers send health communications directly to them instead of a parent or spouse.

"While federal laws have long guaranteed health care privacy rights between a patient and clinician, those protections fall apart when the health insurance industry sends information about the visit to the patient's home. The details included in the statements that are mailed to insurance policyholders can discourage patients from seeking a medical intervention that they need. We want to make sure everyone feels safe to seek the full range of care: from mental health, to reproductive care, to getting a broken bone set. Our bill will provide an option to protect patients who need health care without their family knowing all of the details," said Senator Goldin, bill sponsor.

"Ultimately, this bill is about keeping Rhode Islanders safe and eliminating roadblocks that keep people from seeking the treatment they need. Adult children on a parent's health insurance policy should not have to worry about that information being shared. And no one should be put in danger by having their personal health care information sent to someone with whom they would rather not share it," said Representative Donovan, bill sponsor.

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