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Lawmakers took aim squarely at us ladies

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor

A few weeks ago, I snapped a picture at one of those Moral Monday protests in Raleigh that encapsulated a lot of what I was feeling about the N.C. legislature. A young woman with her dog in tow held a sign that said simply, “Stop being mean... please.”

That plaintive plea largely fell on deaf ears. But the mean-spiritedness of this legislative session should be duly noted nonetheless. Even taking into account the ideological beliefs that drove a lot of the changes that power-dizzy GOP leaders pushed through this session, needlessly mean and hurtful legislation stood out.

It’s no surprise that N.C. women took up signs of protest more than others. Lawmakers took aim squarely at us ladies with last-minute bills limiting access to abortion and other women’s health services – audaciously attached to Sharia law and motorcycle safety bills. Tell us again how prohibiting city and county governments from providing abortion coverage in health plans protects women?

And consider other legislation:

When lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid benefits paid for by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act, they essentially cut off 200,000 N.C. women from insurance coverage. That’s a big chunk of the 500,000 – including children – set to go without coverage.

•  When lawmakers decided in March to end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, only available for low-income working families, they took away something Ronald Reagan dubbed the “best anti-poverty” measure around. Forty percent of N.C. families headed by single women live just above the poverty line. This move is likely to push many of them over the line. More than 900,000 N.C. residents got the credit last year.

• When lawmakers reduced state unemployment benefits, they knowingly triggered the loss of federal jobless benefits for 70,000 long-term unemployed in North Carolina – something that could have been avoided if lawmakers had just made their changes effective in January, not this past July. More than half the long-term N.C. jobless are women.

•  When lawmakers passed a state budget that slashes education funding and gives N.C. teachers no pay raise – ensuring that state teacher salaries will remain in the cellar of nationwide rankings – N.C. women were slammed again. Women make up 80 percent of N.C. public school teachers. The budget also reduces income eligibility for prekindergarten – disproportionately affecting low-income single working women whose children need the program.

Even the hurried election law changes rolled out recently, including a requirement for voters to show a photo ID at the polls, will disproportionately affect women. Women make up 54 percent of the state’s voters but 64 percent of those without a state photo ID. Women are nearly twice as likely as men not to have an ID – 202,714 women versus 106,713 men. Moreover, women represented 56 percent of the voters in the last election. Dramatically shortening early voting, and ending the flexibility of counties to open early voting sites at different hours will hurt women, who often juggle childcare and work duties. Low income and middle-income women will take the biggest hit.

These changes aren’t just mean-spirited. They don’t even make for good legislation. They won’t keep this state’s economy vibrant and they won’t ensure the long-term well-being of its citizenry.

Lawmakers obsessed with party ideology to the detriment of this state might not care about that. But the women – and others – who took up signs of protest these last few months did and should. We all should. North Carolina and its residents can’t afford a repeat of this year’s “Session of the Mean.” Let’s use every force at our disposal – 2014 elections loom – to hammer home that message to lawmakers.

Email: fflono@charlotteobserver.com.
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