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Amendment to broaden Women’s Bill of Rights mostly whittled away

CHARLESTON — The Women’s Bill of Rights, as introduced at the West Virginia Legislature, would codify the definitions of “man” and “woman” while assuring availability of single-sex spaces like restrooms and locker rooms.

Democrats in the House of Delegates offered an amendment to sub in a different, broader set of rights: removing a tax on feminine hygiene products, providing free access to feminine hygiene products to all women in jails, requiring implicit bias training for perinatal healthcare professionals, pushing for pay equity, making clear adults have the right to make their own medical decisions and removing an exemption currently in criminal statute for marital rape.

“This is our Women’s Bill of Rights,” said Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, “and we think it’s vital that women have access to equal rights under the law as we should be guaranteed in West Virginia.”

By the end of the House session, however, the set of proposals was whittled down by majority vote to just one: removing a provision in criminal code where an allegation of inappropriate sexual contact applies only when the victim is not married to the aggressor.

So the latest version of House Bill 5243, which is set for a passage vote in the House on Monday, would still codify the definitions of “man” and “woman” while also removing an exemption for spouses in sexual offenses that could occur in a marriage.

After Friday’s floor session, Young said she supports removal of the marital rape exemption but is frustrated that more provisions were left out.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that we weren’t able to get a comprehensive bill of rights accomplished,” Young said.

On the one addition, she said, “I’m very glad that we’re going to be outlawing marital rape in West Virginia — hopefully, finally, if we can get it through the Senate, which has been a fight for the last several years. I hope people will be free from marital rape and sexual contact. So I’m proud to be the lead sponsor on that piece of the bill.

“I think the Democrats got that in the bill, and it’s a very worthy aspect of the bill. It’s the only piece of the bill that does anything positive. I will say that nothing in this bill still gives rights to women.”

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, proposed removing everything else that Young had offered and leaving only the change to criminal code.

After the floor session, Steele said he believes removing the marital exemption is an important policy change that is long overdue. He also said some of the other proposals had financial effects that had not been explored fully.

“It was one of the few things contained in there that didn’t have fiscal implications. I think there’s a lot of stuff in there from a philosophical standpoint that a lot of us agree on; we also have to deal with the budget,” Steele said.

“What is for sure that Chapter 61 definition part has no fiscal impact and is something that puts us in line with the vast majority of states out there and is a big win for women’s rights. I’m proud that we were able to do that.”

The House of Delegates on Friday passed a bill that would not permit a designation of “nonbinary” on birth certificates.

House Bill 4233 says “the birth certificate shall list the child’s sex at birth as male or female and may not use the term ‘non-binary.’”

West Virginia has not been listed among states where that’s allowed in the first place.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked about that: “Current practice, right now, how many choices are there on a birth certificate?“

House Judiciary Chairman Tom Fast, R-Fayette, responded that there are two choices.

“And this bill says there’s two?” Pushkin asked.

“It doesn’t change that,” Fast responded, “but it adds the requirement of male or female and prohibits the use of non-binary.”

“So it prohibits something that’s not common practice or being done right now?” Pushkin asked.

“I don’t know if it’s being done or not but it definitely sets forth a standard,” Fast said.

Pushkin then said the bill is unnecessary: “This doesn’t change anything. Obviously the sex at birth is going to appear on a birth certificate anyway. There’s plenty of issues in West Virginia we should be dealing with. “