Essay: A powerful sisterhood

Women in the Legislature are leading the way to help California families

By Toni G. Atkins

Former President Barack Obama said something in December that is hard to argue with: “I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything.”

Agreed Mr. President.

In my years in the Legislature, I have watched with admiration as my female colleagues tackle some of the most complex and controversial issues facing California—the fifth largest economy in the world—from increasing access to affordable housing and reforming our state’s use-of-force laws to remedying gender parity on boards and commissions and ensuring workers using paid family leave receive full wage replacement.

We weren’t doing it for ourselves. We were doing it for our daughters, our sisters and, in many ways, our own mothers.

We’re doing it so the woman grappling with what to make her family for dinner has more money in her budget. So the high schooler dreaming about becoming a scientist can secure her seat in our UC or CSU system. So the daughter trying her best to care for her elderly parents has the resources and services she needs to help them age in place.

Last year, the Legislature was not only guided primarily by women leaders—three out of four of the top spots are filled by women—but we passed legislation and a state budget that makes significant gains for California women and families.

We passed a bold and responsible budget that included record levels of investment in public K-12 and higher education, that increased access to health care and funding for aging services, provided $2.4 billion for affordable housing and homelessness, doubled funding for reproductive health services and that expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, thereby helping Californians keep more of their paychecks.

We provided funding for full-day kindergarten, crafted legislation barring landlords from discriminating against low-income renters receiving public assistance and negotiated a solution to protect ratepayers by overhauling the way our state and utilities cover the cost of wildfire damages.

And we passed laws to protect women’s bodies and our rights, including legislation requiring evidence-based, implicit bias training to all health care providers involved in perinatal services, and a law ensuring students’ access to medication abortion services on California public university campuses.

We did all this while also fending off attacks from the Trump administration and those who wish to undermine progress and our California values.

Toni G. Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, is president pro tem of the California State Senate, the first woman and first openly LGBQT person to hold the position. Photo by Melissa Jacobs

I’m looking forward to seeing increased parity in boardrooms this year thanks to landmark legislation that I jointly authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, which requires all publicly-held corporations in California to have at least one woman on its board of directors.

This was the first law of its kind in the nation, and despite lawsuits attempting to erode the progress we’ve made for women, business and the economy, it’s a win-win: More women in these positions make sense for profitability and for equality. As does our continued work to lift and protect women’s issues, and those impacting women in California.

This month, we will begin deliberations on the state budget, and I’m confident that we will maximize our resources to best serve all Californians. Two areas that became a central focus of investment last year, health care and housing, also will be the subject of legislation this year.

While we increased the number of people with access to health care and reduced the cost of health care for middle-class Californians last year, we must continue to work with the governor on the path toward health care for all.

And because there is not enough affordable housing construction to meet the need, we have to work on solutions that will create homes in places that will increase access to jobs, reduce the time people spend in their cars and help us meet California’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.

We also plan to advance a $4.1 billion bond measure to help communities invest in climate resiliency, including addressing sea level rise, preparing for droughts and preventing wildfires. This will help preserve, protect and improve our environment for not only this generation of women, but generations to come.

It will undoubtedly be a busy year, but with 37 strong, brilliant female colleagues by my side in the Legislature—not to mention the women on our staffs and at every level of government—success is inevitable.

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