There is a bill under consideration in the Colorado legislature that is not getting the attention it deserves.
Senate Bill 19-085, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, sponsored by Sens. Jessie Danielson and Brittany Pettersen and Reps. Janet Buckner and Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez, puts forth the simple proposition that women in Colorado continue to systemically be paid less for doing the same work as men, and that this fundamental inequity will not stand.
I strongly support this bill and urge the Colorado General Assembly and Gov. Jared Polis to make it law.
Our shameful legacy of treating women as second-class citizens is a tragic example of Dr. King’s reminder that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Paying a woman 80 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same work, and tolerating this practice legally and socially, makes us all complicit in this injustice.
Equal pay for women is the right thing to do because it is fair, and fair is the right thing to do. There are also very real and powerful social and criminal justice reasons to right this wrong.
Pay equity would result in an annual increase of $9.2 billion of Colorado gross domestic product generated by women in the workforce, and in doing so, it would cut in half the number of working women, and their children, living in poverty.
I am a career public prosecutor with a passion for justice and public safety. I experience daily the relationship between crime and poverty. I have prosecuted crimes ranging from traffic violations to homicides and have seen up close how poverty traps people in the criminal justice system, never to escape its grasp.
Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women, and lower incomes can trap those women, and their children, in violent households, unable to escape. A recent National Institutes of Health study revealed that women in the lowest income quartile are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than those in the highest.
There is a reason for that. A Colorado woman not living in poverty is a Colorado woman financially empowered to escape a cycle of violence and dependency.
Every prosecutor in our criminal justice system has heart-wrenching stories of battered women faced with impossible choices between sustenance and safety.
A charge against her abuser is a charge against the man earning most of the money in the household, a man that uses money as control, a man that knows he can get away with abuse. Determination to report their abuser quickly yields to hard economic reality and, often, a desperate plea for prosecutors to drop the charges.
This prosecutor is ready for a whole lot less of that, and a whole lot more of those abusers facing me in court.
District Attorney’s Offices work to provide counseling services, economic help, and other assistance to victims of domestic violence. Jefferson County recently initiated its Family Justice Center to better provide these services.
This assistance is essential, but it addresses symptoms rather than the root problem of poverty. Fifty percent fewer women in Colorado living in poverty means a lot more women with choices, with empowerment. That is good for all.
Jake Lilly is Sex Crimes Prosecutor for Colorado’s 5th Judicial District. He is an Iraq War veteran and Bronze Star recipient.
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