Editor’s Note: The following blog was written by Vision 2020 Alaska Delegate, Barbara Belknap, who has testified three times since January 2012 on behalf of Senate Bill 53. This bill hopes to re-establish the Alaska Women’s Commission, which was defunded in 1995. The commission works on issues such as poverty, safety, education, and pay equity as it relates to the women of Alaska.
Three times now I have written testimony on behalf of Senate Bill 53, a bill submitted by Senator Bettye Davis of Anchorage to re-establish the Alaska Women’s Commission. I’ve identified myself as one of two Vision 2020 Alaska delegates, and read the five national goals of Vision 2020 for the record.
Alaska’s legislative sessions are televised on a television and heard on a radio program called Gavel to Gavel. Each time I mention Vision 2020, thousands of Alaskans hear about it.
The purpose of the Commission is to improve the status of the women in the state by conducting research, disseminating information and educational materials to help women find resources they need, and to make recommendations to the Governor.
The Alaska Women’s Commission would have two members of the Executive Branch and seven public members appointed by the Governor. It would take recommendations from women’s organizations, minority and low-income representatives, single and married women, civic organizations, educational and vocational groups, employer groups, labor unions, and other groups having interest in the welfare and status of women. The fiscal note is $550,000 per year.
One of the commission’s responsibilities would be to accumulate and compile information concerning discrimination against women. This is where my Vision 2020 issue of pay equity would come in, although the Commission would cover a wide range of other issues where there is inequity between men and women.
The Alaska Women’s Commission would also prepare an annual report on the status of women in Alaska with its recommendations and proposals for change.
My first testimony was given on January 20, 2012 at 8:00 am before the Senate Finance Committee. My testimony focused on the importance of a commission regarding the issues of domestic violence and the gap in women’s wages. Alaska’s wages for women are at 77% compared to men’s, and our rate of violence against women is one of the worst in the nation.
Waiting my turn to testify, I sat next to Marie Darlin, the Alaska AARP representative, who is now in her 80’s. On my left was Caren Robinson, the Alaska Women’s Lobby lobbyist. On the phone testifying were women I know from around the state. There was passion in their voices. The women smiled at me when I finished my testimony. The men on the committee did not appear to be moved.
I testified again on April 5 at an 8:00 am hearing in the House State Affairs Committee. Last night, I got an email that the Bill had been moved out of State Affairs to Finance and there would be another hearing this morning (April 13) at 8:00 am before the House Finance Committee. Senator Davis’s aide, Celeste Holmes wrote, “This is one of the last steps in a long journey and it is vital that you don’t ignore this request for help, otherwise it will die and have to be introduced all over again at the start of a new session.”
That email went to women all over the state with the email addresses of all the Committee members. I got to work writing a few paragraphs to each member of the Committee urging them to pass Senate Bill 53, and sent them out last night.
As I write this, I have the House Finance Committee hearing on the TV. I’m hoping to hear those magic words, “And now we will consider Senator Davis’s Senate Bill 53.”
The session ends soon. Senator Davis isn’t giving up. In fact, she is thrilled that the Bill has gotten as far as it has this session. What would Alice Paul or Elizabeth Cady Stanton do? They demonstrated commitment to women’s suffrage that required a much higher level of commitment than required of me to put my sentiments in writing and drive a few miles to the capitol building. I will not give up either.
In a few days, Vision 2020 is co-sponsoring a showing of the movie “Made in Dagenham” with the League of Women Voters of Juneau. After the movie, we will have a discussion on equal pay for women. Attendees will also get the Vision 2020 membership form.
Update: The Vision 2020 Delegate will continue her passionate fight for pay equity. Although the Alaska State Senate did not move further withSenate Bill 53, Belknap will continue to educate women about pay equity. She has partnered with the Juneau League of Women Voters for a viewing and discussion of the film, “Made in Dagenham.” In the next few months she will show an informational video that will teach women in her state how to negotiate their salaries. She has also contacted the governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell to discuss pay equity. Just as the suffragists did not give up, neither will Barbara Belknap.
(from left to right) Celeste Holmes (aide to Senator Davis), Barbara Belknap (Vision 2020), LaRae Jones (Planned Parenthood), Caren Robinson (Alaska Women’s Lobby). Seated is Senator Bettye Davis of Anchorage. Author of the bill to re-establish the Alaska Women’s Commission. (April 7, 2012)