Two of the most powerful women in New York state government unveiled Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 30-point plan to address issues ranging from child care and equal pay to contraception coverage and maternal depression.
At an event in New York City Thursday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa detailed the 2018 Women's Agenda. It contains several proposals already announced by Cuomo — codifying Roe v. Wade into the state law and constitution, banning domestic abusers from possessing firearms and reauthorizing the state's Minority and Women-Owned Business program.
DeRosa, who as secretary to the governor is Cuomo's top aide, recalled how she and many other women felt in the aftermath of Donald Trump's win in the 2016 presidential election. She mentioned the women's marches that were held in New York last January and the scores of women who, through the #MeToo movement, shared their stories of being sexually assaulted or harassed.
"Yes, 2017 was the year when women spoke up," DeRosa said. "But 2018 needs to be the year when society responds."
The agenda seeks to address women's health issues with the passage of the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act and codifying abortion rights into state law. Cuomo will advocate for improving access to in vitro fertilization, launch a state effort to help women experiencing maternal depression, form a review board to examine maternal mortality and add women's health experts to the State Board of Medicine.
The safety plank of the women's agenda includes passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would add sex as a protected class in the state constitution, extend human rights protections to all New York public school students and lengthen the timeline required to store rape kits at hospitals from 30 days to at least five years.
Other safety proposals have been announced by the governor, including legislation to prohibit domestic abusers from possessing firearms and new laws to combat sexual extortion and revenge porn.
The legislative blueprint wouldn't be limited to issues affecting adult women. There are a handful of proposals that aim to help young girls, including legislation to ensure free menstrual products are provided in public schools for girls in grades 6 through 12. Cuomo's plan would also direct more state funding to expand computer science programs and continue the state's mentoring program.
Two new programs would be created for girls. New York will launch the "If You Can See It, You Can Be It" initiative to offer opportunities for girls to shadow women leaders at prominent New York companies. And the "Be Aware-Be Informed" learning module would educate kindergarten through 12th grade students on healthy relationships.
A handful of family-centered proposals are part of the women's agenda, including investments in prekindergarten and after-school programs, increasing child care subsidies by $7 million, continuing the child care tax credit and requiring all new or renovated buildings with public bathrooms to be equipped with diaper changing stations. Cuomo also wants to establish a child care availability task force to review access to child care statewide.
Rounding out the plan is a large section focused on workplace issues, including previously announced proposals to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and urging the state pension fund to prioritize investments in companies that have "adequate" women and minority leadership.
Some of the new workforce-focused proposals announced Thursday include the formation of the Women's Economic Empowerment Initiative to assist women who are either returning to work or advancing in their fields. Another new initiative, the Women Lead Fellowship for Women in Government, will aim to recruit women to work alongside senior female officials in state government. And Cuomo wants the state's venture capital fund to invest at least $20 million to support women-owned businesses.
Closing the gender pay gap is also a priority. Women in New York earn 89 cents for every dollar a man earns. While that's the lowest gap in the nation, DeRosa said it's "too high and unacceptable." The state Department of Labor has been conducting hearings on how to best address the pay disparity. The agency will release the results of their study this year.
Hochul called each of the 30 proposals in the women's agenda "incredible."
"They are comprehensive, they are bold and what I love most is they are audacious," she said.
Much of the agenda must be approved by the state Legislature. The release of the plan comes less than a week before Cuomo is expected to deliver his executive budget address.