People in Wyoming are celebrating the rescue and restoration of our beloved state Capitol, celebrating 150 years of women’s suffrage and insisting we restore the statue of Esther Hobart Morris to the Capitol front. EHB, after all, is the first woman officeholder in this country.
By all means, the state should be proud of the vision and courage of political and social leaders to win women’s suffrage in 1869 and preserve it in 1890. However, I am OK with siting Ms. Morris’ statue and recounting her role in women’s progress in the educational setting of the new Herschler Building connector in the Capitol Square.
I do object to our modern leaders basking in 150-year-old accomplishments of their predecessors. That is a history to be proud of, but it is history. Instead, let them earn praise for their own vision and courage.
How? I have three relatively easy suggestions and one difficult long-term idea that is the one that will really make a difference for women in Wyoming.
First, pick up two bills recommended by a wage gap study that died in the 2019 Wyoming Legislature. House Bill 72-Wage Transparency would prevent employers from penalizing workers for discussing their wages. House Bill 84-Wage Equality-State Employees and Programs would shine a light on wage equality in state government. The study by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services found that among full-time Wyoming workers in 2016, women earned 68 cents for every $1 earned by a man.
Second, fix our minimum wage statute, 21-4-202. Yes, raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to something appropriate to the current century. But I particularly argue for repealing the provision that allows employers to pay tipped workers $2.13 an hour – and more only if customers’ tips fail to reach the miserably low federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (A “tipped” worker is someone who makes $30 a month in tips.) Tipped workers are dominated by wait staff, where women with family obligations find flexible work schedules. (While we’re at it, repeal the minimum wage exemption for teenagers, too.)
Third, make Medicaid health coverage available to women who don’t have children at home and are too poor to afford health insurance, because they are earning so little or they have quit work to stay home and care for family members. Yes, it’s the Medicaid expansion the Wyoming Legislature has shrunk from enacting for years. Women are an important part of our workforce and an important part of family care, but they need health coverage to keep contributing as they do to our state.
Finally, everyone should be encouraging women’s participation in their government at every age and at every level. We complain about lack of women in the Legislature (it is paltry). But year-round work/travel and compensation that barely covers costs make legislative service impossible for most women with family and work obligations.
Civic engagement begins in local elected office, service on boards and commissions, and being heard on important issues in city and county government. Women build important political skills with these efforts. Most importantly, we need women’s voices at the tables where laws are written and policies are made. Value and encourage their political work close to home. When they can, they will be ready to serve in legislative, statewide and national office, where we need them.
About the EHM statue: I do agree our state Capitol needs a monument in front to explain our amazing legacy of recognizing the importance of women’s voices in our government. So, State Building Commission, let’s get something installed.
And then let us all work to live up to that legacy.