Women legislators are the ones who carry bills that make a profound difference in the lives of women and families. The Center for American Women and Politics has documented this fact in studies that began in 1971, and Santa Barbara’s own State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson is a model example of this. She’s a dynamic force when it comes to passing legislation to help families’ lives.
In 2012, Jackson, a family law attorney by trade, was elected to the State Senate after two terms in the Assembly. In the last three years, her legislative program has focused on such women and family issues as paid family leave and her nationally noted equal pay bill. California now has the strongest equal-pay bill in the country and a paid leave program that encompasses more family members than when originally passed in 2002.
In 2015, Jackson sponsored the California Fair Pay Act to move the dial for American women, who earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to 2014 Census figures, a number that drops to 60 cents for African-American women and 55 cents for Latinas. SB 358 closes the wage gap by ensuring women equal pay for work that is “substantially similar” to work of their male colleagues. The bill also protects women from discrimination or retaliation if they inquire about the salary of a male colleague.
Jackson’s amendment to California’s Paid Family Leave Act in 2013 expanded the definition of family to reflect extended family responsibilities. SB 770 includes time off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law when using disability insurance replacement benefits for up to six weeks.
Additional legislation carried and passed in 2015 by Jackson includes “Earn and Learn Programs” that provide training and compensation for women who need employment and expanded jurisdiction (off campus) for community colleges dealing with sexual assault cases.
Our state senator is not alone in her efforts. A key victory occurred in 2014 when a stronger protocol for collecting and processing DNA from rape kits was signed by the governor. Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s bill specifies a rape kit be submitted to a laboratory “within 20 days after it is booked into evidence.” DNA samples must be uploaded to CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) “no later than 120 days after initially receiving the evidence.”
Taking the fiscal route, State Senator Holly Mitchell lobbied to increase this year’s state budget for services for families in poverty, resulting in a budget that returned 67 percent of previous funding cuts ($673 million dollars).
Few states have experienced as much women-led legislative activity as California. And despite the progress, the California Women’s Caucus presses on with proposals to raise women and children out of poverty, ensure job opportunities, and enable greater family-friendly workplaces. Jackson said this year’s efforts emphasize childcare programs.
Women concerned about equity and quality of life will find California a place with greater and fairer opportunity. Feminist legislative activism occurs at all levels of government, perhaps because progressive female elected officials are carrying the bills. They know how profound the need is, whether through research or their own experiences.
In a recent Calbuzz interview, California’s notorious political blog, Jackson spoke about women in public office: “Women also bring different life experiences to policy making, which reflect values and priorities that are otherwise left unrepresented,” she said. “We need more women to run for office and more women to serve in the Legislature. I believe our state will be stronger for it.”
The annual Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee luncheon takes place March 4 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at The Goodland hotel in Goleta. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson will speak on “It Pays to Elect a Feminist.” Reservations can be made at sbwpc.org or by calling (800) 977-9348.
A version of this article first appeared in womensenews.org. Susan Rose served eight years on the County Board of Supervisors and is a cofounder of the S.B. Women’s Political Committee.