For State Senators – and working moms – Missy Irvin and Joyce Elliott, there’s a lot of success to point to for women’s issues in the most recently concluded regular session.
Sen. Irvin, R-Mountain View, and Sen. Elliott, D-Little Rock, were guests on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. Both women were also recently named to the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force, which will look to modernize and simplify the Arkansas tax code.
Irvin and Elliott teamed up with their colleagues across the aisle and gender divide on several measures, including paid maternity leave expansion for state employees. Act 182, which Irvin co-sponsored with Rep. DeAnn Vaught, allows for all state employees to donate their catastrophic leave to a time bank that can be shared with female employees for paid maternity leave.
“This was a very exciting bill that we were able to pass this session, and really take a huge step not just for our state, but I think for the country,” said Irvin, one of the co-sponsors of the new law.
“I got a picture of our first baby. It was so exciting. One of the state employees, she delivered right after that. We put an emergency clause on the bill, so that we could cover that birth and that pregnancy for that mother. So I was able to get that picture. Just a beautiful baby boy. I’m really proud of our state,” she added.
Elliott sees a potential expansion of the law if the results gain more positive traction.
“We see the result and we see where we can go with it as well. I think one of the reasons it was so well-received, is that it ended up not costing anything,” she said. “I wanted to be sure, we’re thinking about down the road, thinking about when all of these hours are not available, because I don’t think anybody is against the idea. It’s just about making it a priority for funding it. But even more so, I think it’s important for women, for people like you, who are the dads, for you to be covered too.”
Another bill passed this session centered on more contract opportunities in state government for women-, minority- and service disabled veteran-owned businesses. Act 1080 added women-owned businesses to an existing law and set state procurement goals for the three categories of potential contract opportunities at 5%, 8% and 2% respectively. In addition to Elliott and Irvin, co-sponsors included Sen. Dave Wallace and Reps. Michelle Gray, Vivian Flowers, Monte Hodges, DeAnn Vaught and Andy Davis.
“I’ve sat on the review committee for a number of years and seen those contracts coming through that committee. And there are a lot of people in this state who are millionaires because of state contracts. Most of them are men,” said Elliott.
“Women in Arkansas, are not a part of the definition of minority. So what this bill does, is it includes women in that group so that we’re more intentional about women having the opportunity to have access for some of those contracts,” she added.
“Again, we had great bipartisan support for the bill… because we put it all together with veterans and minorities and women. We’re really just saying it’s a priority to our state,” said Irvin. “We want to be able to be a state leading on these issues.”
Neither considers their work done yet. Along with Rep. Fred Love, Elliott said she’s focusing on wage equity as an issue in a future session.
“I think this is a big deal for all of those women we talked about who are head of households or anyone who is doing equitable jobs. And it’s kind of bothersome – ‘kind of’ is an understatement – it’s bothersome that we’re even having this conversation,” said Elliott.
Irvin said human trafficking is a major problem affecting younger women and she’s dedicated to providing more resources and attention to curtail this devastating and emotional issue.
“There’s an uptick, right now. We’ve had, recently, a couple of victims from Arkansas that have been victims of human trafficking,” she said, noting that state agencies like the Department of Human Services must “have the resources available to really investigate and tackle this crime. Because it is massive, and we’re just scratching the surface.”
Watch their full interview in the video below.