ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday unveiled the 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda, a package of proposals targeting reproductive, economic and social justice reforms for women in New York state.
Among the proposed reforms are the elimination of the statue of limitations for rape claims, improved access to in-vitro fertilization, workplace protections and a modernized pay equity law.
“No state has done more than New York to protect and advance the rights of women and girls, but with a federal administration intent on rolling back Roe v. Wade and other protections, we cannot rest on our laurels,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Building on the historic progress we’ve made, including securing the strongest sexual harassment laws in the nation and passing the Reproductive Health Act, our new women’s justice agenda will serve as a direct rebuke to Washington’s assault on women’s rights and ensure New York remains at the forefront of this critical fight.”Reproductive justice
The agenda seeks to incorporate the reproductive rights permitted under Roe v. Wade into the New York state constitution.
Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann said strengthening a woman’s right to choose was important in light of actions being taken at the federal level.
“This is great news for women. Guaranteeing the right to have control over your body supports Roe v. Wade, and what the agenda proposes makes it more clear in the state of New York and strengthens the right of women to have that option in this state. No matter what happens in Washington, New York women will have the right to control their own bodies,” Mussmann said.
Other issues include appointment of a task force to promote healthy relationships and sex education in middle and high school; taking steps to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, as well as racial disparities in maternal outcomes; adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act; outlawing “revenge pornography”; and promoting rural telehealth services.
Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, was in favor of a number of the governor’s proposals, such as steps against domestic violence and removing the statue of limitations on rape cases, along with providing telehealth services.
“In our district there are a lot of rural areas, so increasing and providing telehealth services really would work great because a lot of people in our district are far from the nearest clinic,” Ashby said.
But Ashby said the governor went a step too far with regard to reproductive rights.
“Putting Roe v. Wade into the state constitution — that is something that I feel is unnecessary,” Ashby said. “It’s federal law and we just codified it, so what is the need for a constitutional amendment? It seems like something that is unnecessary and grandstanding.”
The governor’s agenda also seeks to remove gaps in the rape shield law, which protects rape victims from having their sexual histories used against them in court, along with educational initiatives like providing supports for single parents attending community college and expanding after-school programming.
Mussmann said she fully supported the governor’s agenda.
“I applaud the governor during these grim times when hard-fought rights are being removed,” Mussmann said. “The governor is moving in a progressive direction to make sure we keep these rights. I applaud him. May he continue to move in a progressive direction.”Statute of limitations
Included in the proposal is the elimination of the statue of limitations on rape claims. While the statute has already been removed in cases of first-degree rape, a five-year window of time on second- and third-degree rape remains.
In Columbia County, District Attorney Paul Czajka supports the move.
“I have been in support of that for many, many years,” Czajka said. “The legislation within the last 10 or 15 years extended the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes, including those involving rape in the first degree and those in which children were victims.”
That extension, he said, enabled the district attorney’s office to prosecute cases that previously would not have been allowed.
“The extension of the statute of limitations permitted me to prosecute, for example, the Van Alphen, Wendover and Shackleton case, in which four children testified about sexual assaults upon them that occurred many years prior, but continued for years,” Czajka said. “If not for that amendment, the offenses would have gone unpunished.”Workplace protections
Cuomo’s new agenda proposes legislation that would expand on workplace protections.
Changes would include lowering the bar for employees to hold employers accountable for sexual harassment and allowing employees who sign non-disclosure agreements to continue filing complaints.Modernize pay equity law
The Women’s Justice Agenda would promote the passage of a salary history ban, preventing employers from asking prospective employees how much they earned at previous jobs.
It would also expand the definition of “equal pay for equal work,” requiring equal pay on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender, and for all substantially similar work.Improve access to in-vitro fertilization
Access to coverage for in-vitro fertilization would be expanded, requiring many insurance providers to cover egg-freezing services for women with certain health conditions, such as those undergoing cancer treatment.
The legislation would also ensure all New Yorkers have access to these services, regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.