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Survivors of sexual violence might need a lot of help from health care providers, but state lawmakers are concerned that those services may not be covered by insurance companies.
Legislation to require such coverage is part of a slate of proposed bills in the Hawaii Legislature this session addressing violence against women.
“One of the things that we’ve learned is that after there is an assault women need a lot of time to heal — both physically and mentally,” said Sen. Roz Baker, the lead introducer of Senate Bill 1036. “And even though many of our wonderful health plans claim that they cover all these services, we wanted to make sure that that was never an option — that it was going to be covered services and that it was going to be in the statute and it was going to be comprehensive services.”
Baker said the goal is not to “malign” insurance companies.
“But we know that things can change, and it’s important for all of these services to be adequately covered no matter who your provider is,” she said.
The senator spoke Wednesday morning at the Richards Street YWCA in downtown Honolulu, where the Women’s Legislative Caucus of the Hawaii Legislature announced its 2019 package of about two dozen bills and resolutions.
Nearly half address violence against women.
“After there is an assault women need a lot of time to heal — both physically and mentally.” — Sen. Roz Baker
They call for extending the time for reporting child sexual abuse, amending the offense of strangulation of a family or household member to include blocking the nose or mouth or applying excessive pressure to the chest, establishing a centralized sex trafficking database and permitting people “bought and sold” in the sex trade to vacate a conviction for prostitution.
Senate Bill 1039 would allow people convicted of some prostitution crimes to request that the offense be vacated, so long as the person is not convicted again within three years of the initial conviction. The bill and its House companion state that “survivors” are “not criminals.”
“In our criminal law statutes in Hawaii, there are several crimes where if somebody has been convicted of a crime and they have a clean record for a certain period of time, they can expunge that crime off of that record,” said Sen. Laura Thielen, a co-sponsor of SB 1039. “And that’s important, because sometimes if you are applying for certain jobs, if that’s on your record you would be disqualified for being in those jobs.”
Thielen said the legislation would apply to people involved in sex trafficking, either consensually or nonconsensually.
Rep. Amy Perruso is the lead introducer of House Bill 488, which would forbid written nondisclosure agreements involving sex assault and harassment as part of a condition of employment. Employers would also not be permitted to retaliate against employees for disclosing an incident.
“I think this has become nationally important,” said Perusso. “We are one of the states that are moving or have passed laws that address this concern, and I think it’s really ultimately about preventing the silencing of women. I think we have seen the destructive effects of widespread silencing.”
The Women’s Legislative Caucus has existed for more than 20 years. It includes all women of the state House and Senate and is bipartisan. Three years ago, it was expanded to include female members of the four county councils to join state lawmakers in advocating legislation at the state and county levels.
In addition to reducing violence against women, the caucus’ 2019 package addresses gender equity, women’s health and economic opportunities.
House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti, lead introducer of the bill, said lawmakers “have long struggled with this issue.” She said the proposal came about through “great collaboration” with medical professionals and practicing midwives.
Relating to gender equity, House Bill 483 would require the Legislative Reference Bureau to submit a report on how other jurisdictions oversee enforcement of Title IX. The landmark federal legislation of 1992, later renamed in honor of Hawaii’s late congresswoman, Patsy Mink, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in education programs receiving federal money.
Last year, the Legislature created a state corollary to Title IX prohibiting discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation for an education program receiving state money.
Rep. Linda Ichiyama, the lead introducer of HB 483, said the Legislature has been uncertain how to implement the law — hence the need for advice from the LRB this session.
“It’s uncharted territory,” Ichiyama said. “No other state has gone this far.”
The Women’s Legislative Caucus unveiled the bills before an audience at the Y largely comprised of schoolgirls, as it often does to inspire future leaders.
This year’s package was dedicated to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Hirono served in the state House from 1981 until 1994 and is a founding member of the caucus.
Hirono was expected to attend Wednesday’s breakfast, but she had to catch a plane back to Washington on Tuesday to vote on legislation seeking to end the partial government shutdown.
Alan Yamamoto, Hirono’s chief of staff based in Hawaii, spoke in place of his boss. He said that there are a record 131 female members of Congress this year, or 24 percent of total membership. The Hawaii Legislature has 25 female members, or 32 percent.
Those numbers may have been one reason caucus members used words like “hopeful,” “optimistic,” “encouraged” and “energized” to describe their feelings as the new session gets underway.
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