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Cuomo, Legislature seek to enhance women's rights in final days of session

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins with Gov.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday in Albany. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo/Darren McGee

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo prodded the State Legislature on Monday to pass his women’s rights agenda in the final 11 days of the session.

The issues all have strong support in the Democratic-led Assembly and Senate. But Cuomo was urging legislators to pass his versions of the proposals and accused them of playing the “Albany game” of supporting different versions of a bill so that no law ultimately is passed.

Legislative leaders denied playing a game and said they had already planned to act on the issues by the scheduled end of the session on June 19.

Cuomo today called for passage of his women’s agenda to:

  • Pass an Equal Rights Amendment to the state Constitution. The state ERA would add women to classes specifically protected from discrimination. The state Constitution already outlaws discrimination based on race, color, creed or religion. If approved this year, the Legislature would have to pass it again after the 2020 elections, then the measure would have to also be approved in a referendum. The state had passed the federal ERA in 1972, but that still hasn’t been ratified by enough states to be added to the U.S. Constitution.
  • End the “severe or pervasive” standard required by a past federal court decision for sexual harassment to be proven. The Legislature had already agreed to do this and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she expects the bill to pass.
  • Assure full pay equity for women by substituting the clause “equal work” to “substantially similar work.” Cuomo said the provision in law requiring equal pay for equal work has been manipulated in legal action by defendants who argued the work being done by a lower-paid woman wasn’t exactly the same as a man in the same position.
  • Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations on sexual assault. The statute of limitations to bring a criminal case has already been eliminated for first-degree rape.

These measures are already in bills in the Legislature. Final versions will likely be negotiated with Cuomo.

“The state Legislature, united under Democratic leadership, has taken historic steps to protect women’s rights and health,” said Carolina Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Senate’s Democratic majority, which includes 14 female legislators. “We will build on our record of accomplishment and look forward to taking up these important pro-women bills that we have supported for many years.”

Some progressive leaders in the Legislature have criticized Cuomo for failing the progressive movement in some areas, such as tightening campaign finance laws. On Monday, Cuomo tried to turn the tables.

“’Progressive’ is not a lapel pin,” Cuomo said in his news conference. “Progressive is what you did and accomplished … if they don’t pass the women’s agenda, in my opinion you can’t lead the conference and call yourself a progressive.”

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