Women in general and mothers in particular are receiving special attention in several state laws that will take effect in the new year. The new laws recognize that women with children continue to have a harder time getting jobs and promotions when they do work. They also continue to be paid less on average than male counterparts doing the same work.
New legislation prohibiting discrimination based on a worker’s family situation is expected to help to those most in need: single mothers who are also the head of household. In New York, 70 percent of children with single mothers are living in poverty or low-income situations.
Other new laws involve business tax cuts, property tax relief for some veterans, and more health insurance coverage for treatment techniques that involve telecommunication and mobile-based services
These are the highlights, according to the State Senate and Assembly:
• Preventing Human Trafficking and Protecting Trafficked Victims: This new law creates tougher penalties for those engaged in human trafficking of women, men and children. The abuse can be related to sex trafficking, which can now be classified as a Class B violent felony, and to labor trafficking, with certain offenses now a Class D violent felony.
• Equal Pay: This law prohibits employers from paying their workers disparate amounts due to gender. In New York, on average, a woman working full time is paid $42,213 per year, while a man working full-time makes $50,388 per year. Employers legally can base wage disparities only on specific differences in qualifications, such as education, experience and expertise.
• Stopping Discrimination Based on Family Status: The new law prevents discrimination in the hiring and promotion of people with families. Employers will be prohibited from denying work or promotions based on family status, for parents and women who are pregnant.
• Ending Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace: Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related medical conditions, such as allowing workers to sit or to refrain from heavy lifting during the pregnancy.
• Breast-feeding Mothers’ Bill of Rights: The Breast-feeding Mothers’ Bill of Rights is updated to add a provision that allows women to take reasonable, unpaid breaks at work in order to pump breast milk for up to three years following childbirth.
• Health care registration: Pregnancy will now be considered a life-change event, allowing women to sign up for insurance on the state health exchange at any time if they become pregnant. New York is the first state to designate pregnancy as a “qualifying life event” to get or change health insurance coverage.
• Preventing Housing Discrimination Against Domestic Violence Victims: Violating this prohibition will now be a misdemeanor, and it also protects domestic violence victims – 85 percent of them women – from eviction because of their status and gives them stronger grounds for civil action.
• A law taking effect in April creates a pilot program that would enable domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person.
• Prohibiting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: This law protects more employees from sexual harassment by applying existing protections to smaller businesses of all sizes. Previously businesses had to have more than four employees for this protection to be in place.
• Removing Barriers to Remedying Discrimination: Allows successful parties to recover attorney’s fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex.
• Business Tax Cuts: The Business Income Tax Rate will be lowered from 7.1 to 6.5 percent, saving businesses an estimated $125 million. The state’s small business exemption increases to 5 percent for sole proprietors and farmers with at least one employee and a federal adjusted gross income that does not exceed $250,000.
• Increases in the Minimum Wage and Minimum Wage Reimbursement Tax Credit: The state’s minimum wage for most workers will increase from $8.75 an hour to $9 an hour. The increase is coupled with an increase in the Minimum Wage Reimbursement Tax Credit from $1.31 to $1.35 to help offset some of the increased wage costs for businesses.
• Help for Veterans: A new law helps reduce the local property tax burden for veterans by authorizing an increase in limits to the real property tax exemption. Municipalities have the option of offering these exemptions to help veterans afford owning a home, but are not required to. However, veterans already receiving exemptions now can carry those benefits with them when they move to other municipalities within the same county.
• Access to Missing Child Case Information: A new law expedites access to critical information from social service agencies in missing child cases. The law was created in response to a tragic child abuse case in Albany County, in which a child under social service supervision was killed by a relative diagnosed with a mental illness. The relative initially reported that the child had been abducted.
• Expanding Access to Telehealth Services: Three new laws will expand telehealth services across the state. Telehealth is the delivery of health-related services using digital information and communication technologies. This includes video doctor visits and monitoring of health conditions via mobile devices.