President Reagan received a 50-page report yesterday morning on possible steps his administration could take to improve his standing with women voters, including a proposal that he support legislation that would eliminate 100 instances of sex discrimination in the federal law.
The proposal, which was prepared by Justice Department and Office of Management and Budget officials, also suggests that the president could propose eliminating 50 more gender references in federal laws that possibly are discriminatory.
However, Kathy Wilson, president of the Women's Political Caucus, said the rush to get Reagan's approval of the changes now was just more "inaction."
"This whole thing strikes me as contemplation of navel, stage two," Wilson said. "The White House is not taking the gender gap seriously. They are acting as if the White House is a college and all they have to do is study the problem and study the problem . . . ."
Reagan demanded that the report be on his desk on the day he was scheduled to return from his California vacation after Barbara Honegger, the former Justice official who was head of the review of federal laws for discrimination against women, charged that the president was not committed to the effort--Reagan's stated alternative to supporting the Equal Rights Amendment--and that it is a "sham."
The report will be reveiwed by the president and top aides at a Thursday meeting of the White House Cabinet Council on Legal Equity. According to administration officials, Reagan is expected to support a bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), as evidence that the White House is intensifying its efforts to counter Honegger's charges.
In addition, White House officials said the president's advisers, led by deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, plans to expedite proposals to help women get equity in pensions, insurance and pay, especially in government jobs.
None of the proposed elimination of gender discrimination in federal laws would result in major new policies, administration officials said. The laws that prohibit women from military combat and affirmative action programs for women, for instance, would not be changed, they said. Despite the absence of potentially controversial changes in the code, Reagan has not approved the changes as he promised during his 1980 campaign.
"I would judge that the significance of elimimination sex discrimination is in the eyes of the beholder," said White House spokesman Larry Speakes. "It is certainly a start. I think there are 115 statutes that have been identified as discriminatory and of that number 76 contain distinctions that favor women . . . . That's why the review is necessary and the review takes time."
The Dole bill, which is largely based on an earlier White House review of discrimination against women in federal laws that had not been translated into a legislative proposal, calls for elimination of gender distinctions in 100 laws.
The most important of the changes would end distinctions between widows and widowers who receive benefits left by a spouse who had been employed by the government. There also are changes that would undo current laws that require contractors with the government to be 18 if they are female but only 16 if they are male.
"It is an omnibus code clean-up of anachonistic code provisions that discriminate on the basis of sex," said Sheila Bair, an aide to Dole.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department yesterday filed suit against the state of Rhode Island and its Department of Employment Security for allegedly discriminating against women by not treating pregnancy and childbirth the same as any other employe disability under disability insurance programs.