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After six years of his presidency, more of President Obama's judicial appointments have been confirmed by the Senate than for either Presidents Clinton or George W. Bush in their first six years. Nearly one-third of Obama's appointments, some 89, were confirmed in 2014 alone after then Majority Leader Harry Reid led successfully a fight in November, 2013 to change the rules to only require a simple majority vote instead of 60 votes. Reid effectively stopped the Republican filibustering of many of Obama's judicial appointments.
"Reid's leadership coupled with that of Senator Patrick Leahy, then Chair of the Judiciary Committee, stopped the Republican slowdown of the confirmation of Obama's appointments to the federal bench," said Eleanor Smeal President of the Feminist Majority. "The Feminist Majority supported the rules change. Women and people of color have waited too long for adequate representation on the federal bench," continued Smeal.
Most importantly Obama's appointments have changed the face of the federal judiciary. The majority of Obama's judicial appointments have been women and people of color. Women have comprised 42 percent of his judicial appointments, and 36 percent are people of color. The highest level of appointment of women to the federal bench prior to Obama was Clinton, who had a total of 29 percent. Clinton also previously held the highest appointment of racial minorities to the federal bench at 24 percent. President Obama also appointed 11 openly gay men or lesbian federal judges - the most in history. Only one openly gay person had been ever been appointed before by any president.
In the first six years, some 307 of Obama's appointments to the federal bench were confirmed. Moreover now nine of the 13 Circuit Courts of Appeal have a majority of judges appointed by a Democratic president. When Obama entered office, Republican appointees were the majority of 10 of the Circuit Courts of Appeals. By the end of October, 2014, according to Jeffrey Toobin for the New Yorker, "Obama has had 280 judges confirmed, which represents about a third of the federal judiciary."
A clinically dead pregnant woman in Ireland was taken off life support last month after a Dublin court ruled that the fetus would not survive long enough to be born.
Ireland's ban on abortion makes it the country with the strictest abortion laws in all of Europe. This most recent case brought the law into question for many Irish people and reproductive rights advocates worldwide.
The court's decision to take the pregnant woman off life support was in line with her family's wishes. The court, which normally does not operate around Christmas, convened to hear the woman's family plea to have her taken off life support. The woman was declared clinically dead on December 3 after experiencing a severe head injury during a fall.
The decision comes as a surprise to some, as Irish law experts said they believed the court would rule to keep the woman on life support as long as the fetus was alive inside her.
Seven doctors presented testimony to say the fetus "has nothing but distress and death in prospect." The doctors explained that the fetus would have a high chance of experiencing infections, fungal growths, and other complications due to the state of the woman's body.
But this ruling does not necessarily set up a new path for similar cases in the future; judges say future cases involving clinically dead pregnant women might be dealt with differently if the fetus has a greater chance of being viable.
Ireland's total ban on abortion was amended for the first time in 2013 after a woman named Savita Halappanavar died of blood poisoning after being denied an abortion during a miscarriage. Ireland's abortion law now states that a woman can receive an abortion if the pregnancy is putting her life in danger.
However, the current ban on abortion still leads judges to hold the right of the fetus "over the feelings of grief and respect for a mother who is no longer living."
Despite a low turnout due to snowy conditions in Virginia, Democrat Kathleen Murphy defeated Republican Craig Parisot for a Virginia House seat by a margin of just 324 votes in a special election to fill newly elected Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock's seat. However, with Murphy's election, Democrats are still greatly outnumbered (67 Republicans to 33 Democrats), in the Virginia House of Delegates.
While voters in Virginia do not register by party, elections results show the 34th District, which includes Great Falls, McLean and parts of Vienna and Loudoun County, is equally Democrat and Republican.
Murphy, 66, is an advocate of stricter gun laws, renewable energy resources, requiring colleges to report sexual assaults to the police, and is against "personhood" anti-abortion laws.
"I will fight to protect the rights of all Virginians no matter their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation," Murphy states on her website. "I will be an advocate for the reproductive rights of women, our voting rights and for the civil rights of all our citizens."
1/6/2015 - Washington, DC Breaks Barriers for Women
Our nation's capital is making feminist history. As of January 2, Washington, DC is being led by a trio of trailblazing women, two of whom are women of color, making it the only city in the US where the mayor, chief of police, and school chancellor are all women.
Muriel Bowser, the second woman to be elected as Mayor of Washington, DC, announced last week that she will be keeping top DC leaders Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. After the announcement, the Washington Post referred to Bowser, Lanier, and Henderson as "DC's Matriarchy."
"How fitting for the nation's capital to have three women in charge, women who have gotten things done in this city for years," said Bowser. "We want to the whole world to know we are a city on the move."
Police Chief Lanier has lived an inspiring and difficult life that has undoubtedly contributed to her leadership, perseverance, and understanding of the problems of poor people struggling to make their way. She dropped out of high school at 14 after becoming pregnant, and supported herself through two master's degrees before joining the police force. Kaya Henderson, who has been DC schools chancellor since 2011, is widely credited with the rapid and sudden progress of DC public schools.
Furthermore, Bowser nominated Polly Donaldson as director of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. An out lesbian and expert in affordable housing, Bowser calls Donaldson "a person with a proven track record and proven leadership."
And we cannot forget, in Congress, the District of Columbia is represented by delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Norton is a strong voice in Congress for women's rights, civil rights, economic justice, and statehood for the District of Columbia.
With this collection of impressive female leadership, Washington DC can boast of a feat no other city can claim.
The 24 states where Republicans now hold total control are planning a "juggernaut of conservative legislation" that could especially impact women's access to reproductive health, according to the Washington Post.
States like Tennessee can expect to see further restrictions on abortion access in the coming months, following an amendment to the state constitution that was narrowly passed in November. Tennessee's Amendment 1 takes away privacy rights for abortion and birth control access and permits state legislators to pass laws restricting abortion and birth control. Republican State House Speaker Beth Harwell plans to take up three more restrictive measures, previously struck down by the state Supreme Court. Because of Tennessee's privacy clause that was amended by Amendment 1. The three, if passed by the Tennessee legislators, measures would require a woman seeking an abortion to go through a waiting period and receive mandatory counseling, and would mandate stricter inspections for clinics.
Attacks on labor unions are to be expected as well, as Republican legislators plan to take up dozens of measures that challenge the power of labor union. Many of these measures are designed to weaken labor unions. Moreover, bills designed to privatize many social services, such as kindergarten development, are expected.
Right-wing legislation advocated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing think tank that promotes model legislation, is going to eliminate defined benefit pension systems and replace it with a defined contribution system. A prime target will be public employees' pension plans, which would directly affect state employees in traditionally female roles, such as teachers, administrative staff, hospital workers, but would also impact firefighters and police officers.
A vote by news directors and US editors at the Associated Press named Mo'ne Davis the 2014 Female Athlete of the Year, making her the youngest person to receive the title. She was also named the 2014 Sports Kid of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
Davis, a pitcher, was the breakout star of the 2014 Little League World Series, where she threw a two-hitter to help Philadelphia beat Nashville 4-0 in the opener and had eight strikeouts without walking a single batter. She's already playing for her high school's varsity team - even though she is 13 years old and in eighth grade.
After her performance at the Little League World Series, Davis became a celebrity. She met the Obamas, was in a commercial directed by Spike Lee, and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids. Davis' message to those who look up to her is: "Always follow your dreams. If there's something people tell you that you can't do it, go for it."
The Little League allowed girls to play for the first time in 1974, after a several year campaign waged by the National Organization for Women. "I can remember it well," Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and then President of Pennsylvania NOW told Feminist Newswire. "We picketed the Little League World Series in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania with the slogan 'Give Girls a Chance.'"Little League was sued by girls in several states with the help of NOW. Finally, in 1974, a New Jersey Court ordered Little League to allow girls to try out. Little League not only integrated its baseball program, but also set up a softball program for girls. On December 26, 1974 President Gerald Ford signed legislation opening Little League to participation by girls by changing its federal charter to include "young people" rather than "boys."
Davis - an honor student who plays three sports (she plays basketball and soccer, too) - is aiming for the WNBA, but until then says she wants to continue playing three sports in high school. Steve Bandura, who helped coach Davis, said the fame and busy lifestyle doesn't stop her from being a kid.
Following rampant accusations of sexual assault and harassment of female migrants, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is looking to boost the number of female agents on staff.
Right now, of the 21,000 agents serving the CBP, only about 5 percent are female. This week, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the department has received over 5500 applications from potential female recruits since kicking off a hiring spree in early December. These developments come on the heels of increasing complaints against CBP and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) alleging staff members have sexually abused children and female detainees, compounding a journey that is often traumatic enough on its own.
Writing for the New York Times, Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, stressed the need to increase the number of female officers in order to stem violence often initiated by male members of law enforcement agencies:
Research conducted nationally and internationally for more than four decades has found that women police officers not only do their jobs as well as men, but are less authoritarian, use force less often, communicate better, and are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations than their male counterparts.
According to Federal News Radio, at least 50 women reported being sexually assaulted by human traffickers on the way to the United States. Amnesty International estimates that as many as 60 percent of the women who come to the US from Central America and Mexico are sexually assaulted during the trip.
Last month, Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network said the number of female migrants has nearly tripled since 2011, but the number of field agents has remained low. "Most women are victimized by men," Molina said, "So having a first responder who's a man inherently creates mistrust."
CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske seems to agree. In an interview last month, he said, "women bring a perspective and negotiating skill to law enforcement and to the border patrol that we very much need." CBP aims to hire 1,600 agents by the end of September 2015.
1/2/2015 - #BlackLivesMatter Movement Takes On Racist Coverage by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation Companies
Over a thousand protesters are slated to rally outside Fox News headquarters today to protest racist coverage of anti-police brutality movements across the country by both Fox News and newspaper The New York Post.
At 2 PM today, protesters will gather in front of News Corporation headquarters and host a "die-in shutdown" that is expected to last until 7 PM. At 5 PM, the rally will move to Wall Street with a speak-out, and at 7 PM a meeting for anyone interested in participating in planning further protests will be held at 60 Wall Street in the Public Atrium.
News Corporation, owned and founded by Rupert Murdoch, controls a network of media, news, and education companies. The New York Post and Fox News have been the recipients of complaints and accusations of racist coverage and commentary on the cases of victims of police brutality such as the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Eric Garner case in Staten Island, New York. Fox News has received negative feedback in the past for racist or sexist comments said on air, most recently for editing footage from a police brutality protest. The footage showed activist Tawanda Jones leading a chant "we won't stop, we can't stop, till killer cops, are in cell blocks," although Fox News stopped the chant to sound like "we won't stop, we can't stop, go kill a cop." They have since apologized to Jones, calling the edit an "honest mistake."
This protest is said to be the first in a larger campaign for justice organized by #BlackLivesMatter Justice for Eric Garner Assembly, who created a list of short and long term demands.
12/24/2014 - New FMF Study Finds Nationwide Increase in Public Single-Sex K-12 Education Despite Evidence it Increases Sex Stereotyping and Sex Discrimination
Deliberate sex segregation is on the rise in public K-12 classrooms across the country, despite evidence that it is often illegal and educationally unsound.
Tuesday, the Feminist Majority Foundation's Education Equity Program released a second multi-year study "Identifying US K-12 Public Schools with Deliberate Sex Segregation."
According to the new study, there has been a 24 percent increase in public coed schools with single-sex academic classes since the period covering 2007-2010. In the first FMF study, there were 564 public coed schools with single-sex academic offerings. That number jumped to 699 in the new study, with a slightly larger increase in the number of all-female and all-male public schools. The number of single-sex schools jumped 29 percent, from 82 schools to 106 schools by 2012.
South Carolina, Florida, Texas and North Carolina had the most public coed schools with single-sex classes. New York and Texas had the most all-girl and all-boy schools.
The FMF study also found that more of the single-sex academic classes were for male students than females, however, the number of all-girl schools exceeded the number of all-boy campuses.
Most of the coed schools with single-sex academic offerings are middle and high schools.
"We are concerned that the numbers of single-sex K-12 public education programs are growing despite increased evidence that they are legally and educationally unsound," says Sue Klein, Ed. D., Education Equity Director for the FMF. "This growth is of particular concern because schools with deliberate sex segregation often serve a predominantly African American and/or Latino student populations in urban areas. Only 35 percent of coed schools with single-sex academic classes had a 75 percent or higher white student population," Klein said.
Writing for the fall 2013 issue of Ms. Magazine, Susan McGee Bailey wrote that the data supporting the persistence of single-sex education "have not withstood scientific scrutiny."
"Rather than offering a hoped-for fix to problems of low student achievement, single-sex instruction has failed our students and encouraged school districts to risk breaching both Title IX and the 14th Amendment"s Equal Protection Clause," Bailey wrote.
While federal law mandates that public school single-sex education must be voluntary, the new FMF study found that almost none of the schools provided information on their websites about the nature of, or justification for their single-sex environment, leaving parents and students without adequate information to make informed decisions about their child's participation in a deliberately sex-segregated setting.
Earlier this month, the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued long awaited guidance for K-12 schools interested in offering single-sex classes while staying in compliance with federal laws barring sex-based discrimination.
The new study contains lists of 805 public K-12 schools with intentional single-sex settings by name and state. Help FMF take the data further:
- Do the schools on the above lists in your state still practice deliberate sex segregation?
- Are there other public schools that should be added to the lists?
- Are schools with sex segregation violating any of the equity principles in the December OCR guidance or other review criteria such as the FMF suggestions for evaluations?
Please share what you learn with FMF's Education Equity Director, Sue Klein at email@example.com
According to local officials and residents, Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped at least 172 women and children and killed 35 people last week.
"They gathered the women and children and took them away in trucks after burning most of the village with petrol bombs," a local government official reported anonymously.
Reports of the attack in northeastern Nigeria took days to become public news due to a lack of communication - it has been known that telecommunications towers in the area were disabled in previous attacks. Residents from the area fled to another area, where local officials finally learned of the attack.
Local vigilantes from the village of Gumsuri who were previously able to hold off the insurgents' attacks were reportedly overwhelmed by the most recent attack.
â€Ž"They destroyed almost half the village and took away 185 women, girls and boys," Umar Ari, a resident who fled the area, said.â€Ž
Boko Haram has not officially taken responsibility for this most recent attack, but the attack closely resembled the group's common methods. According to residents, gunfire was preceded by insurgents shouting, "God is great!"
Other residents reported insurgents fired machine guns and used gasoline to set houses on fire. Hundreds of Gumsuri residents have fled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Maiduguri is struggling to deal with the numbers of people fleeing to the city from Boko Haram attacks in their hometowns.
Boko Haram attacks have been commonplace since around 2009. The terrorist group has attacked schools, kidnapped women and children, and bombed government buildings. The most internationally well-known attack was over the summer when Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls. The kidnapping inspired the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, but activism surrounding the incident faded with time when the girls were not rescued.
According to a US Congresional Research Service report, Boko Haram has been involved in the deaths of more than 5,000 people, and kidnappings have become more frequent this year.
12/23/2014 - Fate of 15-Foot Buffer Zone On Hold in Pittsburgh
The fate of a 15-foot buffer zone in Pittsburgh could be determined by a federal judge if city lawyers and anti-abortion protesters don't come to an agreement first.
Earlier this month, US District Judge Cathy Bissoon heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the city of Pittsburgh and attorneys representing five anti-abortion protesters who demanded an injunction against a city ordinance that they say is selectively enforced and meant to censor them.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious advocacy group representing the anti-abortion protesters, argued that their clients' ability to offer, self-described "sidewalk counseling" as women enter the local Planned Parenthood is inhibited by the 2005 ordinance. However, the city contends that the zone is "content neutral," applying not only to abortion clinics, but all "hospital or health care [facilities]."
Michael Kennedy, assistant city solicitor, said the ordinance was specifically enacted to prevent confrontations from flaring up between anti-abortion protesters and clinic employees and patients.
Judge Bissoon asked the parties to attempt to reach an agreement on their own. Friday, lawyers for both sides said they will continue negotiations, but will also file a final set of legal arguments before the judge rules on a motion seeking to bar the city from enforcing the buffer zone.
This summer, the US Supreme Court sided with anti-abortion demonstrators in McCullen v. Coakley, ruling that a 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.
Following the decision, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said, "The Court's decision failed to acknowledge that the Massachusetts law was enacted after the murder of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline." Five other people were wounded in the Massachusetts attacks in December 1994.
A final decision in the Pittsburgh buffer zone case is expected next year.
In case you missed it, President Obama on Friday held his last press conference of 2014 - and when it was time for questions, he only called on women.
The press corps has long been dominated by men, and Helen Thomas became the first female reporter to cover the White House in 1960.
It was not the first time President Obama took questions from only women. Back in September during a visit to Wales, President Obama called on four reporters who were all women. But while that was reportedly just a coincidence, Obama calling on all women on Friday was purposeful.
"The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States," Josh Earnest, Press Secretary at the White House, said after the conference. "As the questioner list started to come together, we realized we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President's closely watched, end-of-the-year news conference."
When reporters thought Obama was done taking questions, a male reporter asked Obama about his New Year's resolutions. He ignored the male reporter and called on April Ryan of American Urban Radio instead. The other seven women, all print reporters, called on were: Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico; Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg; Julie Pace, Associated Press; Lesley Clark, McClatchy; Roberta Rampton, Reuters; Colleen M. Nelson, Wall Street Journal; and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled Friday that the McDonald's corporation is responsible for several dozen complaints of retaliatory conduct against workers fighting for job improvements.
Since November 2012, 291 charges have been filed against McDonald's franchisees. Of that number, the NLRB said it found 86 cases of unlawful conduct which included firings, reduced hours, threats, surveillance, and discriminatory discipline against workers who participated in organized and legally protected activity. Of the 291 charges that were filed, 11 cases were resolved, and another 71 remain under investigation.
Friday, the NLRB elected to name the McDonald's corporation as a joint employer with McDonald's franchisees, a move that trade groups have criticized. According to Reuters, the NLRB has traditionally held that franchisers may only be held liable if they are involved in setting wages and hiring workers. If the cases cannot be resolved through settlement, they could go before an administrative law judge beginning in March 2015. Cases have been launched in 13 regions across the country, including cities in New York and California, where the Department of Labor reported egregious wage theft violations earlier this month.
Speaking for the National Employment Law Project, General Counselor Catherine Ruckelshaus agreed with the NLRB's decision. "While lobbyists for the fast-food industry might loudly disagree, their objections don't change the facts: if you work at McDonald's, then you work for McDonald's, and not just the company's franchisees," she said. "McDonald's exerts substantial control over its franchised restaurants; it's only right that the company should also be held responsible for the rights of the workers at its restaurants."
McDonald's plans to contest the unfair labor practice charges against them.
Debate surrounding Ireland's ban on abortion has come up again following a current case involving a woman who is being kept on life support because she is pregnant.
The woman's family wants her to be taken off life support, but doctors refuse because Irish law says they must do what they can to protect the 16-week-old fetus. It is highly unlikely for a fetus to survive outside the womb until 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Dr. Adam McAuley, an expert on Irish medical law, believes Dublin High Court will decide to keep the woman on life support until the fetus develops into a baby that can be delivered. The case will come before court on Tuesday.
"The law isn't clear, and when there is conflict, the matter will have to come before the court," McAuley said.
The woman, who was in her 20s, suffered a blood clot that left her brain dead. An Irish constitutional amendment gives mothers and the unborn equal rights under the law - which means that despite the family's wishes, doctors cannot remove her from life support.
Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country where more than 4,000 women leave to receive abortions annually (most go to England). However, some women do not have this option - including, obviously, those such as the woman in this current case.
Ireland's first abortion exception law was passed just last year, which made it legal to receive an abortion if the woman's life was in danger from the pregnancy. The law came about largely after debate surrounding a woman named Savita Halappanavar who died from blood poisoning that came about from the dying fetus she had to carry. She was not allowed a life-saving abortion because the fetus technically still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar's death led to nationwide protests.
Last summer, a suicidal woman who was raped as a minor became pregnant. She could not go to England for an abortion because she is not an Irish citizen, so she attempted to obtain an abortion under the new law. The woman was denied the abortion despite two psychiatrists determining she was suicidal and saying she should have access to the procedure. The obstetrician on the panel declared that the fetus was viable and should be delivered. After the panel's examination, the woman had to wait 17 full weeks to hear back about the outcome. She believes the government purposely delayed her case until the fetus was viable. When her request for an abortion was ultimately rejected, she started a hunger and water strike in protest but stopped when authorities threatened to put her on forced hydration. She then agreed to have a premature caesarean section at 25 weeks.
A pro-choice group in Ireland called Choice Ireland posted the most recent news with the caption "How many 'unforeseen' cases will it take to repeal this abominable law?"
Wednesday, the Washington, DC City Council unanimously passed a bill that will prohibit employer interference in the reproductive health decisions of their employees.
The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 was first introduced by DC Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), just ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of for-profit retail chain Hobby Lobby this summer. The bill amends DC's 1977 Human Rights Act and "expands discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination based upon the reproductive health decisions of an employee, their spouse or their dependent." The original Human Rights Act includes language that explicitly protects DC residents from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy status, childbirth, or related medical conditions or needs.
Some advocates say the bill could be interpreted as a reversal of the controversial Hobby Lobby decision, but according to a committee report, the bill "is not about insurance coverage, but rather about employee discrimination."
Outgoing DC Mayor Vincent Gray is expected to sign the bill before year's end. As in the case of all legislation in DC, the measure will still need to be approved by both chambers of Congress and President Barack Obama before it can be fully enacted.
12/19/2014 - Incremental Gains for Women in Congress
When the 114th Congress is sworn into office on January 3rd, 2015, there will be exactly the same number of women in Senate as the year before, 20, and a record-high number of women in the US House, 84. Overall, the total percentage of women in Congress will increase from 18 percent to 19 percent.
At this rate, it would take more than another 2 generations of women to get to parity in Congressional representation. "Clearly, this is not acceptable," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
With Mary Landrieu (D-LA) losing to Republican Bill Cassidy in a Senate run-off election this weekend, twenty women will serve in the Senate for the third year in a row. There is a notable difference in party divisions, as only 70 percent of the women in Senate are Democratic, compared to 80 percent in 2014.
Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics, noted that years when Republicans win many elections often do no yield well for women. "While Republicans won big across the country," she said, "women remain seriously underrepresented among GOP officeholders."
The number of women in the US House of Representatives, however, has increased from 74 to 84- the highest amount yet. Due to a special election, Alma Adams (D-NC) became the 100th woman in the current Congress when she was elected to join the House.
The total number of women governors stays the same at 5, and includes Gina Raimondo, the first woman elected governor of Rhode Island. Another record setter, Maura Healy of Massachussetts is the first openly LGBT woman to ever be elected to the position of attorney general.
The Assembly Budget Committee of the New Jersey state legislature approved a paid sick leave bill Monday by a 6-4 vote.
If the bill is passed, New Jersey workers will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. In smaller organizations, employees will be able to earn a required minimum of five sick days per year; at companies with less than 10 employees, workers will be able to accrue 40 hours of sick leave that could be carried over to the next year. Workers at larger businesses would be allowed to carry over up to 72 hours or 9 days of sick leave from one year to the next.
The New Jersey Time to Care Coalition praised the committee's vote. "When you get sick, you shouldn't need to worry about losing your pay or even your job," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, Executive Director of NJ Citizen Action and spokesperson for NJ Time to Care. "We thank the Assembly Budget Committee for their commitment to advance the right of all workers to be guaranteed a basic standard of earned sick days."
In November, residents of Trenton and Montclair overwhelmingly voted for local measures that would require private-sector enterprises to offer paid sick leave. In the last year, eight New Jersey municipalities (East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, Paterson, Montclair, and Trenton) have taken legislative action on paid sick leave. There are only 16 cities with paid sick leave laws in the entire country. If the statewide measure is approved, New Jersey will become only the fourth state to offer paid sick leave.
Last week, US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez met with activists and some New Jersey lawmakers at Rutgers Law School in Newark. "We are the only nation in the civilized world where we don't have some form of federal paid leave, and we're working on that in Washington with the leadership of the President," Perez said. "You are ahead of the curve," he told them. "It probably doesn't feel that way as you push the boulder up the hill."
Six months after retail store American Apparel fired its chief executive and founder Dov Charney, the company has hired retail executive Paula Schneider as a replacement.
Schneider, who will become American Apparel's first female chief executive, will take over the position as of January 5.
Charney had led American Apparel since 1998 and became well-known from American Apparel's sexist advertising and from several sexual harassment lawsuits and sexual assault accusations against him by former employees. Charney was removed in June but was brought back on a month later as a "strategic consultant." After an investigation by the company, a statement was released that did not bring up the harassment or assault accusations, but did state that based on this investigation, the special committee determined that it would not be appropriate for Mr. Charney to be reinstated as CEO or an officer or employee of the Company.
Earlier this year Charney said he would seek severance pay of between 23 and 25 million dollars. Schneider says she strives to make American Apparel a better company while "staying true to its core values of quality and creativity and preserving its sweatshop-free, Made in USA manufacturing philosophy."
"This company needs a permanent C.E.O. who can bring stability and strong leadership in this time of transition, and we believe Ms. Schneider fits the bill perfectly," said David Danziger, a co-chairman of the American Apparel board.
Congress came to a close on Tuesday night with the Senate confirmation of 12 new federal judges and 12 executive appointments - including Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, Sarah Saldana as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Tony Blinken as deputy Secretary of State. In their entirety, Obama's confirmed nominees to the federal bench are 42 percent women, 19 percent African-American, 11 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent openly gay men or lesbian women, making this the most diverse group of judges in history.
As of these appointments 9 of the 13 federal Circuit courts of appeals are now composed of a majority democratic appointment. Until recently, 10 out of 13 had a majority appointments by Republican presidents.
Tuesday's confirmations were made possible by the parliamentary blunder of Senator Cruz and the quick response by Senator Reid to move appointments that had been languishing because of Republican opposition.
Sarah Salda a was appointed as head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement by a vote of 55-39, and faced nearly unanimous GOP opposition. Saldana is a US attorney from the Northern District of and Texas, will be the first Latina to hold the position. In a statement President Obama called Saldana "the right person to lead the dedicated men and women at ICE in securing our borders, keeping American communities safe, and upholding our values."
With a close vote of 51 to 41, Vivek Murthy was confirmed as the next Surgeon General. Murthy, the 37 year old founder of the group Doctors for America, is the first Surgeon General of Indian-American descent. Murthy's appointment was held up by Republican Senators for about a year because of his view that gun violence is a public issue. President Obama expressed confidence in Murthy in a recent statement. "Vivek will hit the ground running," he said, continuing "He'll bring his lifetime of experience promoting public health to bear on priorities ranging from stopping new diseases to helping our kids grow up healthy and strong."
A federal civil rights lawsuit is being filed on behalf of a Wisconsin woman who was jailed after allegedly using methamphetamines while 14 weeks pregnant.
Tamara Loertscher, 30, was jailed after seeking prenatal care at a Mayo Clinic branch in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Loertscher was seeking treatment for a serious thyroid condition and depression, and disclosed to doctors that she'd been using drugs before she knew she was pregnant. Hospital workers then had Loertscher jailed.
"This was my first pregnancy, so I didn't know what to expect," Loerstcher told reporters. "I was having lots of cramping and a lot of stress from everything and they [jail officials] wouldn't allow me to see the doctor."
Wisconsin law grants authorities the power to involuntarily detain and confine a pregnant woman for substance use if she "habitually lacks self-control" and her substance use poses a "substantial risk" to the health of an egg, embryo, or fetus. This policy, Wisconsin Act 292, is also referred to as the "cocaine mom law."
Wisconsin is just one of several states that effectively suspend the civil rights of pregnant women in the name of protecting against fetal harm. Tennessee was the most recent state to enact such a law, doing so earlier in 2014. Wisconsin's law remains the most broad, and no court has yet ruled on its constitutionality.
12/16/2014 - Personhood Groups Plan to Launch County and Municipal Measures to Restrict Abortion Access
A newly-created anti-abortion group has announced a new tactic meant to end abortion access nationwide.
In the wake of major defeats for personhood ballot measures in Colorado and North Dakota's recent elections, anti-abortion extremist Gualberto Garcia Jones, who authored Colorado's failed Amendment 67, is now instructing groups to abandon statewide votes for personhood amendments. Instead, Garcia Jones suggested that in 2015 anti-choice groups start engaging the enemy in municipalities and counties that we know we control. The Personhood Alliance, which claims to have member organizations in at least 14 different states, is already receiving support for putting anti-choice ballot initiatives at the county and municipal level from other anti-choice groups.
"We know that winning in a head to head statewide battle with Planned Parenthood is almost impossible," said Molly Smith, President of Cleveland Right to Life, "so we are going to change the rules of engagement a little."
Voting at the local level, however, has not worked for passing abortion restrictions in the past. Cathy Alderman, Vice President of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, remembers when anti-choice groups failed to ban abortion at 20 weeks in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Voters upheld the value that women should be making their own health-care decisions in consultation with their doctor and their family and without government interference," Alderman said.
On Saturday, December 13, the National Action Network (NAN), NAACP, and other civil rights organizations led the Justice For All March in Washington, DC. Thousands attended the march with the goal of compelling Congress to take legislative action to bring justice to the families of those slain by law enforcement.
Just 8 days before the march, founder and leader of the National Action Network, Reverend Al Sharpton, put out a call for protesters, allies, and supporters to converge on the nation's capital. The families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and John Crawford III, all attended the march, joined by other survivors of violence by police and, in the case of Martin, "vigilantes."
Last week, in a blog for the Huffington Post, Sharpton commended President Barack Obama for establishing a task force to brainstorm and develop concrete recommendations to address the the culture of militarized hyper-policing and use of excessive force that most often adversely impacts communities of color. He also acknowledged President Obama's commitment to outfit some 50,000 police officers with body cameras - a direct response to the more than 150,000 people who demanded via petition for mandatory body cameras. Sharpton also took aim at Congress.
"Congress must immediately start hearings to deal with laws that will change the jurisdiction threshold for federal cases and policing," Sharpton wrote. "The executive branch has addressed this most pressing issue, and now it's time the legislative branch do the same." Sharpton also called for the funding of body cameras for police officers.
He isn't the only one calling for more lasting action. Last week, a delegation of the Mothers Against Police Brutality also appeared before Congress to urge them to take decisive action in how police-involved killings are prosecuted.
The delegation included 10 mothers from all over the country who've lost sons to police violence. Mothers Against Police Brutality supports mandatory body cameras, but they want to see Congress push for demands like same-day blood tests for officers involved in police-shootings, random drug testing for all law enforcement civil servants, and accountability of the district attorneys many officers work with.
12/15/2014 - Ohio House Rejects Six Week Abortion Ban
An Ohio bill that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Ohio House Wednesday.
House Bill 248, a direct affront to Roe v. Wade, would have banned abortion before viability, even in cases of rape or incest. 11 Republicans voted against the bill, causing it to fail with a vote of 47-40. 11 legislators did not vote.
"It's not supported by good science, it's not supported by good medicine," said Representative John Patrick Carney (D-Columbus), who voted against the bill.
The bill, a so-called "fetal heartbeat ban," was labeled a "Heartless Abortion Ban" by reproductive rights advocates. Kellie Copeland, the executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said her organization was "elated" that the bill failed, but that debate surrounding the bill had had a "chilling effect" on women and physicians in Ohio.
"Sadly, we know that defeat of this legislation is not the end of the threat to women's health," Copeland said. "Anti-choice forces already have more restrictions on access to reproductive health care ready for introduction when the legislature returns in January."
An earlier version of the failed Ohio bill had previously passed the Ohio House in 2011 but was defeated in the Senate.
Both North Dakota and Arkansas have passed early abortion bans, but these have been blocked by the courts. In April, a federal court permanently blocked enforcement of the North Dakota six-week abortion, calling the measure "invalid and unconstitutional." Another federal court earlier this year struck down a "fetal heartbeat law" in Arkansas that would have banned abortion at 12 weeks.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to review the decision by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to block a restrictive Arizona abortion law. Anti-abortion proponents of the law claimed it would have essentially eliminated medical abortions in Arizona. Similar laws enacted in Ohio, North Dakota and Texas will likely now meet a similar fate.
The Arizona law would have prevented women from receiving a medication abortion between their seventh and ninth week of pregnancy. The anti-abortion Arizona law passed in 2012 was blocked by the Ninth Circuit. Arizona then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The Court's decision to deny the appeal means the law cannot be enforced.
"Mifepristone, or the pill method of abortion, is extremely safe and non-invasive," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Politicians should stop trying to practice medicine and allow women and their doctors to decide the best course of action for their well-being."
Medical abortions, or pill-inducing early option abortions, are used in the first 49 days after a woman's last missed menstrual period. Medical abortions are non-surgical and involve the use of the mifepristone pill. This method accounts for some 40 percent of all first-trimester abortions. The appeals court in blocking the law said it "substantially burdens women's access to abortion services," and it "introduced no evidence that the law advances in any way its interest in women's health."
The Center for Reproductive Rights, when arguing against the law before the court, agreed, saying it would only cause harm for women."Women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy will continue to get safe, legal care based on the expertise of their doctors, not politicians who presume to know better," said Nancy Northup, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in response to the Supreme Court's decision.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, applauded the decision. "Politicians across the country should take note: These harmful and unconstitutional restrictions won't be tolerated by the courts or the public."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to push for confirmation of 24 Obama nominees over the weekend. 12 federal judgeships and 12 administrative appointees, including a new Surgeon General and head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, could be appointed due to a little-known procedural rule and the actions of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
The Senate vote on the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill this weekend was stalled when Senator Cruz insisted on a vote on the constitutionality of President Obama's recent executive actions on immigration. Although Senator Cruz's motion was defeated 22-74, the extended session opened the door for Senator Reid (D-NV) to present 12 nominations for judgeships, and another 12 for executive office- an unintended consequence that has many GOP leaders frustrated.
Amongst nominations for the executive office is Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General, whose view that gun violence in America is a public health problem and needs to be addressed has been controversial. Sarah Salda a was also nominated to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If appointed, Salda would be the first Latina woman to hold the position. Many of the nominations face minimal opposition, and it is believed that most will be confirmed early this week.