A bill to give victims of rape and domestic violence greater economic protection won’t be heard this session after the House failed to vote on the measure by their April 21 deadline for committee action on Senate bills. State Sen. Debbe Leftwich said while she and other supporters were deeply disappointed, they were not surprised.
Sen. Leftwich, D-OKC, is principal author of the Senate Bill 935, which would have created the “Victims Economic Security and Safety Act.” The bill would have enabled victims to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work to seek medical help, legal assistance, counseling, safety planning and other assistance without being penalized by their employers.
“Earlier this session the House Business and Economic Development committee killed the House version of this measure. Based on the shockingly insensitive comments made in that committee, we really weren’t optimistic about getting a fair hearing,” Leftwich said. “The House version was drastically amended in the hopes of keeping it alive, changing the unpaid leave from 12 to just 3 weeks but they still killed it. By contrast the Senate version passed unanimously in this chamber.”
Among the comments made by various committee members opposing HB 1699:
“Seems like three weeks is too long, especially when they already have two weeks vacation.”
“It promotes discrimination between males and females.”
“And this name, victim’s, is offensive to me. It could have been called something more pleasant.”
“I think most of the people of this state would have been shocked to hear some of the comments made about this proposal. One representative said the bill would slam Oklahoma back into the dark ages. The bill wouldn’t, but attitudes like those will,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich said studies have shown that an estimated two million women a year are physically or sexually assaulted or stalked by an intimate partner in the United States and that one-fourth to one-half of domestic violence victims report they lost a job because of domestic violence. Similarly, almost 50 percent of sexual assault survivors reported they lost their job or were forced to quite in the aftermath of the crime.
“The truth is that it is more expensive for a business to replace an experienced worker than to make sure these victims have adequate leave time. What these members need to realize is that this could happen to their families. No one is immune from this crime,” Leftwich said. “Has the House already forgotten about Laci Peterson? Domestic violence is the number-one cause of death for pregnant women in this country.”
The measure had the support of several organizations, including YWCA, The Oklahoma Conference of Churches and Oklahoma’s Catholic Charities and other groups providing counseling and services to victims of rape and domestic violence.
Senator Leftwich noted that earlier this week, the House had presented a citation to three Afghani women for creating the Voice of Afghan Women Radio. The citation commends the project “for playing a significant role in helping Afghan women reclaim their rights as human beings since the fall in 2001 of the oppressive Taliban regime…”
“I think it was appropriate for the House to honor those women for their effort—but at the same time, I think it is deplorable that some of those same House members couldn’t be bothered to hear and support a bill that may have saved the lives of Oklahoma women in their own communities,” Leftwich said.