NEW YORK ― With a state legislature made up 40 percent of women, Nevada is second only to Vermont in terms of female representation. And that translated into a landmark session for women’s rights and health this year, even under a male Republican governor.
Nevada lawmakers just wrapped up a state legislative session that delivered a startling number of progressive victories for women: tax-free tampons, a new $500,000 family planning program, workplace accommodations for pregnant women, and mandatory insurance coverage of contraception and mammograms.
“We started with some pushback from Republicans, but by the end of the session we had broad bipartisan support on a lot of these measures,” said state Sen. Julia Ratti (D), a freshman from Sparks.
Ratti introduced a bill that codifies the women’s health protections in the Affordable Care Act into state law, so that if the Trump administration rolls any of them back, employers in Nevada will still be required to cover contraception, well-woman visits, breast exams and other preventive health services in their insurance plans at no out-of-pocket cost to their female employees. The bill also allows women to pick up a 12-month supply of birth control at once. Six Republicans joined Democrats in passing the measure, and Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed it.
Nevada lawmakers also established the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act, introduced by state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro (D), which requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” like breast pump rooms and a fair break schedule for pregnant employees. Legislators approved two bills introduced by state Sen. Pat Spearman (D) aimed at preventing stalkers and domestic abusers from possessing guns, and a bill eliminating sales tax on feminine hygiene products and diapers. And they established a state-funded family planning program to address a dearth of contraception access for low-income women in rural areas.
“I think the results speak for themselves,” said Vanessa Cardenas, a spokesperson for EMILY’s List, which helps elect Democratic women in Nevada and nationwide. “We have been able to identify women that really represent the communities that are sending them to office.”
EMILY’s List has been working to build and train a pipeline of female candidates in Nevada since 2014. The group recruited, trained, endorsed or financially supported the campaigns of 15 of the 18 Democratic women currently serving in the state legislature. “We have been able to identify women that really represent the communities that are sending them to office,” Cardenas said. “We go in there early, work to identify women who have a passion for helping their communities, and then give them the tools to win.”
Women, despite making up more than half the population, are grossly underrepresented in politics. They make up less than 20 percent of Congress ― which often translates to rooms full of men making decisions that greatly affect women and women’s health.
Of course, female lawmakers have a range of policy interests and expertise beyond those that mainly pertain to women. Ratti, who plans to run for state Senate again, hopes to spend her second term focusing on economic inequality and the state’s “broken” property tax system, which is contributing to an affordable housing crisis. She said she focused on health care in her first term because Trump’s victory “shone a bright light” on the immediate need to protect access to women’s preventive health services.
Ratti said her first few months in the state legislature have shown her why it’s critical to have more women at the table.
“We bring a different perspective,” she said. “You get a broader range of ideas when you have diversity in the workplace.”