04/08/2012 09:10 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2012

Has Gov. Jerry Brown Defended and Promoted Women and Girls in California?

There was a lot of feedback after my commentary, "Women and Girls of California Need a Voice. Governor Brown Are you Listening?" ran in The Huffington Post.

Readers support the idea of saving the California Commission on the Status of Women. They think it's important that an agency of state government has the assignment to reach out and listen to women. They want a government that at least makes an effort to be sensitive and responsive to the women who pay the state's bills.

But they also wanted to know what, specifically, the California Commission on the Status of Women had accomplished over the years.

Well, it's not enough, and it never will be, but there is a pretty darn good roll call of accomplishment.

I thought it might be helpful to explain exactly what the Commission does, how it brings about change, and why it will be missed should it be eliminated.

Women and girls have offered their concerns at public hearings held in several cities across the state hoping that someone would take action.

And we did.

Here are examples of three bills that came directly from testimony presented to the California Commission on the Status of Women:

  • SB 222 (Evans, 2011) Maternity Services. This bill requires that every individual and group health insurance policy must provide coverage for maternity services.
  • SB 299 (Evans, 2011) Pregnancy Leave; Health Care Coverage. This bill amends the state's Pregnancy Disability Leave law to guarantee the continuation of employer-provided health insurance coverage for women on leave from work due to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • SB1770 (Padilla, 2008) Anti-Reproductive Crimes. This bill extends the operation of the Reproductive Rights Law Enforcement Act, designed to combat crimes interfering with patients' access to health care facilities, and directs the Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training to develop guidelines and model procedures for investigation and reporting of anti-reproductive-rights crimes.

Unfortunately, domestic violence was a subject we heard a lot about at the public hearings. A total of 40 percent of California women report that they have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. That's 7 percent above the national average.

Here are examples of three other bills the California Commission on the Status of Women sponsored that pertain to domestic violence:

  • SB 782 (Yee, 2010) Rental Housing. This bill prohibits a landlord from evicting a residential tenant based on acts of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalling against the tenant or the tenants' household member.
  • SB 2052 (Lieu, 2008) Termination of Tenancy. This bill permits a residential tenant who is a victim of domestic violence to terminate her or his rental agreement with 30 days notice to the landlord.
  • SB 1356 (Yee, 2008) Contempt of Court. This bill prohibits imprisonment of a victim of domestic violence who is found in contempt of court for refusing to testify concerning the domestic violence.

These are but a few of the many bills proposed and sponsored by the California Commission on the Status of Women which is the ONLY state agency that has the authority to not just advocate, but ensure gender equity for California's 18.7 million women and girls.

And while a large portion of the Commission's work relates to legislation, there are other ways the Commission advocates for women, as well.

For example, the Women's Commission created the Anti-Reproductive Rights Crimes Task Force which develops recommendations to address the failure of law enforcement to recognize such crimes. The outcomes included a new training video which was distributed to all law enforcement offices in California.

Another is the Financial Literacy Program which partners with the Departments of Corporations and Financial Institutions to develop materials on managing finances and debt that can be easily shared with women's organizations and agencies across the state.

We are in the fourth year of collaborating with the California Department of Veterans Affairs to better reach women veterans through annual conferences and special recognition events celebrating them.

The Women's Commission regularly meets with the Employment Development Department as part of ongoing work to see that the Paid Family Leave Law is effectively implemented. Too many workers do not know of their eligibility.

We also initiated and coordinate regular meetings with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to address employment discrimination and how to improve the process DFEH uses in handling claims.

The Women's Commission is a member of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Gender Responsive Strategies Commission, which addresses the significant growth of the female inmate population. It seeks to lower recidivism, and to address the differences in male and female incarceration, management and rehabilitation.

The agency also serves as a member of the California Women's Health Council, a body of experts and community representatives that provide advice and support to both the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Health Care Services, through the Office of Women's Health.

In October, 2010, California NOW President Patty Bellasalma proclaimed, "As Governor, Mayor, and Attorney General, Jerry Brown has promoted and defended women's rights. Jerry stands for fairness and equality."

The California Women's Commission has been advocating on behalf of women and girls for forty-seven years on an annual budget of $465,000. In the last year it was reduced to $270,000. Yet the California Director of Social Services, William Lightbourne, reportedly earns $343,000 per year. That's $73,000.00 more than the entire operating budget for the Women's Commission which represents 57 percent of California's population.

What's wrong with this picture?

To the women and girls of California: Are we going to stand by and let our commission die? Who will advocate for us if the agency is eliminated?

And who will help the poorest among us?

Please call Governor Brown at 916.445.2841 or send an email insisting that the Commission survive the budget cuts.