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Minnesota House passes Women’s Economic Security Act

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ST. PAUL — New Minnesota mothers would more likely keep their jobs under the Women’s Economic Security Act, its supporters say.

The House gave the measure its approval Wednesday, 104-24, with the Senate expected to follow suit. The bill that passed is a compromise between slightly different versions the House and Senate already adopted.

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Bill sponsor Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, told opponents their fears that pregnant women and parents of young children would get special considerations are unfounded.

“It has nothing to do with any sort of special treatment,” Melin said. “People are still expected to be at work on time and to fulfill their job duties.”

Melin said the state should take steps to boost women’s pay, which she said is 80 cents for every dollar a man is paid. Working mothers are less likely to get promotions, she added.

“Being that I am expecting myself, it has really opened my eyes to the problems in the workplace facing women,” Melin said.

The bill, which Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign into law, would expand family leave and requires employers to accommodate pregnant employees’ needs such as more rest periods and more frequent restroom breaks.

Giving pregnant women extra accommodations is not absolute. An employer who can prove that such accommodations would unduly disrupt the business could be exempted.

The bill would require employers to give unpaid break time to mothers to express breast milk for her infants and provide other accommodations for new parents.

It would double unpaid parental leave to 12 weeks, and allows use of that leave for pregnancy-related needs.

The bill encourages women to take jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Also, the bill supports increasing education opportunities for women looking for such jobs.

The measure encourages equal pay with men for the same jobs, in part by putting such requirements on many firms doing business with state government and the Metropolitan Council.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said he has heard many questions from businesses in his area: “What is this going to mean to us? We have been doing business with the state of Minnesota forever.”

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, joined Kresha in saying that many questions need to be answered before the bill becomes law.

Also in the bill are:

  • Requirements for employers to not discriminate against pregnant women and parents of children.
  • Provisions to allow grandparents to use sick leave to care for an ill or hurt grandchild.
  • Several ways to address financial problems caused by domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
  • Expansions of unemployment insurance eligibility to domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault victims.
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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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