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Women's workplace protections get Senate OK

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The Minnesota Senate has approved a comprehensive package of workplace protections for women by a 51-14 margin, MPR News reports.

The measure, known as the Women’s Economic Security Act, contains a number of provisions designed to address inequalities between men and women in the workplace, according to the Star Tribune, including:

– Requiring private businesses that contract with the state to certify that they pay men and women equally.
– Extending unpaid maternity leave from six to 12 weeks, extending the use of sick leave to caring for grandchildren. – Enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence. – Creates a grant program to encourage women in non-traditional jobs and women business owners. – Requiring employers to provide a place other than a bathroom for nursing mothers to pump breast milk. – Launching a feasibility study for a state retirement savings plan for those without an employer-provided option.

The total cost of the bill is $2.7 million. A nationwide survey recently found that female workers in Minnesota are paid 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.

The original package of bills also included a major expansion of child care subsidies, but that provision was dropped as the measure went through the committee process, in part because of its estimated price tag of "a couple hundred million dollars," according to Finance and Commerce.

Another provision, which would have required employers to provide one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, was also dropped in the face of opposition, Finance and Commerce reported.

Still, the measure's author, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said it's a good step toward helping working women, according to MPR.

"A lot of it is the culture and corporate America just agreeing that they have to treat their women employees equally to their male employees, and provide the kind of accommodations that keep women in the workforce,” she said.

Opponents of the measure said they didn't see the need for it.

“I will not stand here and vote for a bill that promotes one gender over another," said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, according to the Star Tribune. “If you work hard, if you compete better than others, you will find greater opportunities, whether you’re a man or a woman.”

The House passed a similar version of the bill earlier this month, and the differences between the two bills will be addressed by a conference committee.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he supports the bill.

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