In 1977, 20,000 women from across the country went to Houston, TX for the National Women’s Conference. A delegation of women from Maine were there, too. They returned to our state feeling energized and wanted to do something to make a real difference for Maine women. They decided to secure funding for what were then known as battered women’s shelters.
They did all the things you’re supposed to do when trying to pass legislation. They found a sponsor. Testified in support of the bill during the hearing. Told their representatives in the Maine State House why this funding was important and urged their support. It seemed to be going well. They thought the funding would be included in the state budget.
When the budget finally passed, they were surprised and disappointed to learn that the funding for the shelters wasn’t included. To find out what went wrong, they asked the people they knew in the legislature why the money wasn’t in the budget. The answer: in the final hours of negotiating a deal, there wasn’t anyone in the halls of the State House advocating for those funds.
This passionate group of women told themselves that never again would the women of Maine be without a voice when these kinds of decisions are made. \They reached out to women all over Maine and asked them to each give $2 to help hire a lobbyist—and the Maine Women’s Lobby was created.
For more than 35 years, the Maine Women’s Lobby has been the voice of women and girls when policy decisions are being made—in the State House and beyond.
Highlights through the years…
- In 1979, the Maine Legislature voted to use state money to fund Battered Women’s Projects. It was the rejection of this bill in 1978 that mobilized women to form the Maine Women’s Lobby.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby has worked with allies to successfully defeat anti-choice legislation since 1979.
- Beginning in 1981, the Maine Women’s Lobby advanced legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. A bill was finally passed by the legislature in 1993 and vetoed by Governor McKernan. It passed again in 1997, was signed by the Governor, but overturned by a “People’s Veto” in 1998. In 2005, discrimination was banned once and for all by popular vote.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby won state enforcement of Title XI Regulations through the Maine Human Rights Commission with the enactment of the Maine Education Equity Act in 1983.
- In 1985, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked to make Marital Rape recognized as a crime so that partners are no longer immune from criminal prosecution for raping their spouse. Language is also enacted to make it no longer a “lesser crime” if you are raped on a date.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby advocated for passage of the Family Medical Leave Act in Maine in 1988 and for subsequent expansions in 1991 and 1997. Maine became one of the first states in the country to enact such legislation, which provides unpaid leave to Maine workers in establishments with 15 or more employees.
- In 1989, the Occupational Safety and Health Training for Video Display Terminal Workers was enacted. The Maine Women’s Lobby advanced this first-in-the-nation legislation which launched modern ergonomic protections by requiring that safety information be given to computer operators.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby led an effort to require all private insurance policies to provide coverage for screening mammograms in 1990.
- In 1991, the Maine Women’s Lobby led an effort to correct an omission in the Maine Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in education by adding race as a protected category: An Act to Prohibit Educational Discrimination.
- Maine enacted a model sexual harassment law in 1991. The Maine Women’s Lobby advanced this first-in-the-nation legislation requiring employers to post notices and conduct training on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
- In 1993, the Maine Women’s Lobby led the effort to codify provisions of Roe v. Wade into Maine law with the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act, upholding Maine’s commitment to reproductive privacy if Roe is overturned.
- The Maine legislature enacted the Act to Promote the Health of Newborns and their Mothers in 1996. This Maine Women’s Lobby priority bill required insurers to provide coverage for medically appropriate postnatal services.
- Maine enacted An Act to Prohibit Stalking in 1996. The Maine Women’s Lobby supported this legislation to make stalking a crime.
- In 1997, the Maine Legislature enacted the Parents as Scholars Program. This first-in-the-nation state program established access to education for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients, empowering low-income parents to earn a degree and a well-paying job. The Maine Women’s Lobby worked closely with Maine Equal Justice to pass this bill.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby served on the 1999 steering committee for the NO on 1 Campaign, which led the defeat of the so-called “partial-birth” abortion ban at the polls.
- That same year, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked with the Maine Choice Coalition to require insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives, to the same extent as other prescription drugs or outpatient medical services through the Contraceptive Equity Law.
- In 1999, employment leave was guaranteed for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking when the Maine Women’s Lobby advanced first-in-the-nation legislation providing job protection to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The law requires all employers to grant leave so that survivors may attend court proceedings or receive medical treatment.
- Maine became the first state to develop guidelines for implementing a law requiring that women are paid fairly for the value of their work. Maine’s Equal Pay law had been on the books since 1965, but steps had never been taken to implement it until the Maine Women’s Lobby promoted this bill in 2001. The Maine Department of Labor’s guidelines strengthened enforcement of that law and provided employers with guidance and an incentive to comply.
- In 2001, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked with Maine Choice Coalition partners to enact Family Life Education as part of comprehensive school health education. This was a first-in-the-nation comprehensive state approach to teaching age-appropriate, medically accurate contraception information, disease prevention, and healthy relationships, along with abstinence.
- In 2003, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked to extend unemployment insurance benefits to people who choose to work part time rather than full time—the majority of whom are women—with the enactment of Part-Time Unemployment. This protection was made permanent through legislation passed in 2007.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby worked to pass critical legislation in 2003 that allows a judge to remove weapons from domestic violence perpetrators as part of temporary Protection from Abuse Orders.
- Maine’s Family Medical Leave Law was expanded to include domestic partners in 2007. The Maine Women’s Lobby successfully worked to add domestic partners and their children to the list of family members for which an employee may use family and medical leave.
- In 2007, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked to enact the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program, a program administered through the unemployment insurance fund which helps low-wage workers access a postsecondary degree or training credential to secure a well-paying job.
- Also in 2007, the Maine Women’s Lobby joined allies in advancing first-in-the-nation legislation to define domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening, domestic violence terrorizing, domestic violence stalking, and domestic violence reckless conduct and making all Class D crimes.
- In 2008, Maine became the first state in the nation to set up a comprehensive chemical policy to require safer alternatives to dangerous chemicals in consumer products. The Maine Women’s Lobby joined the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine to pass this bill by an overwhelming margin. It covers products intentionally marketed for children and any other consumer product that may expose a child or fetus. Chemicals of high concern include those specifically harmful to women; for example a likely carcinogen, reproductive or developmental toxicant or endocrine disruptor.
- When Maine secured marriage equality for same-sex partners through a citizen-initiated referendum in 2012, the Maine Women’s Lobby was proud to serve on the steering committee for Mainers United for Marriage.
- In 2015, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked with allies to enact legislation providing affirmative language protecting General Assistance for asylum seekers and other immigrants.
- In that same legislative session, the Maine Women’s Lobby worked with partners in the Maine Alliance for Reproductive Freedom to expand Medicaid coverage for contraception and other preventive health care for those women whose pregnancies would be covered under MaineCare.
- In 2015, Maine joined the rest of New England in passing a ban on the shackling of pregnant prisoners in our corrections system except in extraordinary circumstances. The Maine Women’s Lobby worked with partners in the Maine Alliance for Reproductive Freedom to end this inhumane practice.
- Also in 2015, the Maine Women’s Lobby helped pass a bill providing further workplace protections for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The law increases penalties for employers who fire victims and survivors when they take protected time off to go to the doctor, attend court dates, or for other services related to the abuse, assault, or harassment.
- The Maine Women’s Lobby worked with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center and other advocates to pass a municipal ordinance in Portland that increases the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in 2016, $10.68 an hour in 2017, and links future increases to inflation. With the passage of this ordinance in 2015, Portland became the first city in the Northeast to raise its minimum wage.