Graphic for the virtual event, Public Policy Power Hour
The Women’s Fund of Omaha hosted a Public Policy Power Hour on Friday, Nov. 5. The virtual event was focused on legislation relevant to economic security. Photo courtesy of the Women’s Fund of Omaha.

Women’s Fund of Omaha hosts Public Policy Power Hour

State Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha and Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln discussed upcoming legislation with the Women’s Fund of Omaha on Nov. 5. The event, Public Policy Power Hour, is part of a series of online discussions focusing on informing Nebraskans about bills coming up in the next legislative session.

The discussion focused on economic security. Tiffany Seibert Joekel, research and policy director for the Women’s Fund of Omaha, hosted the webinar where Cavanaugh and Pansing Brooks answered questions from participants.

While the Women’s Fund of Omaha focuses primarily on issues specific to women, it focuses on family initiatives as well. Cavanaugh talked about LB290, a bill that would provide paid family and medical leave for workers in Nebraska.

“The essence of what this legislation is intended to do is to create a more welcoming workforce environment for, not only working mothers, but for families and just individuals as a whole,” Cavanaugh said.

LB290 would create a statewide family and medical leave insurance program. It would be funded by contributions from employers that would cover the employee’s wages. The bill has won committee approval and is on general file, awaiting consideration by the full legislature.

“In the greater context of the COVID pandemic, we know paid leave is necessary for everyone to have time to take off work to care for themselves or their loved ones,” said Jill Heggen, communications director for the Women’s Fund of Omaha. “We need to be able to provide an option for workers in Nebraska that is not a choice between going to work and caring for their health. We need a solution. And that’s paid family medical leave.”

Pansing Brooks informed attendees about LB249, a salary history ban. This bill would make it unlawful for an employer to ask about or require a potential worker’s previous salaries in the job application process. 

Pansing Brooks explained that because of the wage gap for women, especially women of color, employers might pay women based on their previous salary, not the actual value of their job. 

“Since a woman makes less than a man, you can hire this woman who has the same qualifications, but you can get a far better deal,” Pansing Brooks said, continuing her example. “The point isn’t to hire women because we’re a better deal. The point is to pay people appropriately.”

LB249 is still pending in the Business and Labor Committee and has not moved on to general file.

“Pay equity is our goal across the board. That’s what we are really fighting for,” Pansing Brooks said. “But to do that, we have to chip away at some of these barriers that are already set up in the system.”

The Women’s Fund of Omaha works to address gender-based inequalities in Nebraska by advocating for policy solutions and investing grant money into local nonprofits. It started doing these virtual power hours last legislative session as a way to keep citizens informed on relevant public policy issues.

“Our role as the public awareness team has really been to make the information more accessible to people,” Jill Heggen, communications director, said.

Olivia is a senior Journalism, Advertising and Public Relations major.