THE WOMAN'S VOICE was pleasant, but a little shaky on the phone. She gave her name and the name of her organization, which was NOAW, and that, she said, stands for Network of Abused Women. She said she is one of seven women in Montgomery County who run a house where other battered women can live for three months after they have left their spouses and are trying to get back on their feet. That, she said, can take a couple of years, so three months isn't that much but it's better than nothing. There's a bill her group was interested in, something that might have provided the women with some money to do more. She wanted to know about the bill. She thought it was going to come up in the Senate soon. She thought wrong.
The domestic violence bill, as it was know, came and went quietly 10 days ago when Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) tried to bring the conference report approved by the House to the floor of the Senate, and was told that a group of right-wing senators were prepared to filibuster it. Cranston withdrew his motion, and that was the end of a bill that would have provided $65 million over three years to help states fund shelters for abused women. The bill, a major target of the right-wing, which perceived it as yet another federal threat to the family, also authorized a study of elderly abuse and would have strenghtened federal and state measures against parental kidnapping. w
Score one for the bad guys.
There is a fair amount of hand wringing going on in certain circles these days over the belief that legislation of particular benefit to women and children will get nowhere in the next session of Congress. If truth be known, that kind of legislation has not done so terrifically in this session, either. Also defeated was the Child Health Assessment Act, which would have provided about $22 million in the first year and up to a billion by the fifth for the health care of some 13 million children entitled to Medicaid benefits and for medical care of welfare mothers during their first pregnancies. But there were some accomplishments.
"We broke even," says Pat Reuss, legislative director for the Women's Equity Action League, "which in light of the opposition is a success. . . . We were the center of attack by the vocal right and we held our own." But, she says, "we have yet to find some health care legislation that pleases the radical minority of people who refuse to give any help for people who have babies or who chose not to. This is punishment against poor women. Women who have any money are not suffering this."
"The major victory," she believes, was the passage of a bill drafted by Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), which directs courts to assume that pension benefits earned by Foreign Service officers should be part of divorce settlements with spouses who lived with them at least 10 years while they were in the Foreign Service. While this measure affects a small number of people, it sets an important precedent for pension reform. "It assumes that the federal pension of a Foreign Service officer is earned as a partnership and should be shared by the wife either in divorce or death. This is the first time we have legislated this assumption. . . . We'll use this concept in seeing if we can have this same assumption carried over to the Civil Service and the Armed Service and the Pentagon, and that's a revolution."
Another victory, according to Reuss and others who lobbied this session of Congress for legislation benefiting women, was passage of a bill that provides $30 million to encourage women and minorities to enter scientific fields and to advance their careers. A setback, however, occured when the Carter administration's request for $20 million to help prevent discrimination in education was cut in half.
Ann Smith of the Congresswomen's Caucus says that some $5 million has been provided for women's business programs and that Senate language restricting funds from being used to give women management and technical training was deleted by a conference committee.
"We were really against that [language]," says Reuss, "because we feel it is training for women entrepreneurs that is essential for getting women into the work place. They left out the language and they didn't specify an amount to be spent on women's enterprise programs so that doesn't limit it. . . . It's an almost victory."
And she, as well as other women's advocates, count as victories the antiaffirmative action and antiabortion riders that were kept off legislation by coalitions of womens' and civil rights groups. They were not always successful, but, Reuss says, protest by women working for the federal government was particularly important in removing a rider from the Treasury Department appropriations bill that would have kept federal health insurance from covering abortions.
As for shelters for battered women, Reuss is recommending that women's advocates look someplace other than to the federal government for help. "If the fight to get federal funding is so desperate, we may as well take our money and our energy to the local community and build the base there for responsible action for these people. The sad thing is we can name about 20 states where the cooperation is about 20 years down the road, the poorer states, the Southern states, the states where there is no enlightened leadership."
But, she says, "it's pointless to reintroduce legislation that we couldn't even get when we had the good guys around."