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Governor calling for workplace gender equality

The Minnesota Senate brought the state one step closer to gender equality in the workplace on April 21 when a group of measures designed to help women passed. They include steps to level pay, longer parental leave and assurances of private rooms for nursing.

The Minnesota House also passed similar legislation, which set up a likely negotiation when the Senate passed theirs with a 51-14 vote. The House also has the option of embracing the Senate version.

The effort ties in with the national push by Washington, D.C. Democrats to implement more safeguards for female workers. All Senate Democrats voted for the bill that they described as overdue steps to give women more employment security. The Republicans who opposed the measure said it involves too much government interference.

What supporters are calling the Women’s Economic Security Act, this legislation will require companies with state government contracts to certify they pay men and women similarly. It would also prevent companies from retaliating against employees who openly discuss their wage disparities and make nursing rooms available for nursing mothers.

The bill would also establish a competitive grant program for women who start their own companies in certain fields to help them with training, mentoring and networking.

Some lawmakers object to some of the new paperwork requirements the bills would create. Under the bill, government vendors with more than 40 employees and contracts exceeding $500,000 must certify that they are in full compliance with equal pay and civil right laws. Failure to do so could result in their contracts being voided.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, believes the measures send a negative message about reliance on government and could convey women as victims in society.

“What are we telling women?” Rudd said. “Unless the government steps up you’re not smart enough, you’re not tough enough, you’re not capable enough to be successful on your own?”

The bill heads next to the conference committee to address the differences between the Senate and House versions.

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
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