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Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda will have local impact

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In his State of the State address on Jan. 9, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the “Women’s Equality Agenda,” a sweeping, ten-point proposal designed to level the playing field for women in the state.

Kathleen Stein, public policy chair of the American Association of University Women in St. Lawrence County and president of the St. Lawrence County League of Women Voters, said, “We are really excited about this.”

Both the AAUW and League of Women Voters in the county have signed on as “supporters in principle” of the governor’s agenda. Mrs. Stein said roughly 300 groups across the state have also signed on in support of the agenda.

“It’s definitely going to help local women,” Ms. Stein said.

Several key provisions in particular, Ms. Stein said, will go a long way in leveling the playing field for women in the north country.

“St. Lawrence County is an area with a lot of poverty and people working minimum wage jobs,” Ms. Stein said. “There are jobs that have been identified with women that get tracked into lower pay.”

Donna J. Seymour, public policy director of the state American Association of University Women and a resident of Potsdam, said pay equity is crucial for women in the north country and across the state.

Mrs. Seymour said women in New York are making on average just 84 percent of what a man makes.

And many times, Mrs. Seymour said, women are unable to determine if they are the victim of pay discrimination.

Public employers, said Mrs. Seymour, are required to have their wages public. But private companies can restrict that information and require employees keep quiet about how much they earn.

“That’s why you don’t find as much discrimination between public employees,” Mrs. Seymour said.

One of Mr. Cuomo’s proposals is to enable private employees to share wage information, giving workers the ability to pick up on discrimination and take action accordingly.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said, “The governor’s agenda gets at ensuring that people can have access to information to root out discrimination at the private level.”

Mrs. Russell was recently named Chair of the Assembly Taskforce on Women’s Issues.

Mrs. Seymour said, “[Wage discrimination] should be considered theft of service.”

Going further, the governor’s proposal would also give women easier access to legal recourses to settle issues of discrimination.

“It would make it so you don’t have to go out of pocket to sue someone who is discriminating against you,” Mrs. Seymour said.

The goal, said Mrs. Russell, is to create “an environment where employers are not going to engage in discriminatory behavior because it is cost prohibitive.”

Mr. Cuomo’s proposal will also make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against victims of domestic abuse.

Ms. Stein said, “The idea is that landlords can evict women for being victims of domestic abuse just because they don’t want the trouble…. It would take a state wide law to stop that sort of discrimination.”

And that, Ms. Stein said, is exactly the sort of legislation she hopes to see come out of the governor’s agenda.

Mrs. Russell said, “These concepts have already been the subject of many pieces of legislation in the past.”

Mrs. Seymour said, “We’re just now trying to get moving here. Gov. Cuomo likes to move fast. He’s getting things done.”

Mr. Cuomo’s ten point Women’s Equality Agenda is as follows:

Achieve Pay Equity

Stop Sexual Harassment in All Workplaces

Allow for the Recovery of Attorneys’ Fees in Employment and Credit and Lending Cases

Strengthen Human Trafficking Law

End Family Status Discrimination

Stop Source-of-Income Discrimination

Stop Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic Violence

Stop Pregnancy Discrimination Once and For All

Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Laws

Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice

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