By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In some ways, it is still a man’s world. But Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming, said women make up one-fifth of the House of Delegates in Charleston.
“We have 21 members and it is significant,” she said. “We are here and a force to be reckoned with now.”
Phillips is part of the 21-member House of Delegates Women’s Caucus that is meeting weekly during the 2013 regular session. “We believe by working together, the women serving in the House can better identify issues that directly affect women and pursue legislation,” Phillips said.
Phillips and Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, were selected to chair the caucus jointly.
With new leadership, Phillips hopes to revive the caucus.
“We want to do something worthwhile,” she said. “We want something meaningful to come of this Women’s Caucus.”
Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, has been involved in the Women’s Caucus for 11 years.
Looking through notes from previous years, Sumner said the topics of women’s issues have ranged from teen pregnancies to children born with congenital heart failure to female athletes. Numerous presentations by the American Cancer Society, social workers and more have shared their concerns with the caucus.
Sumner can see a shift in topics since those first few years.
“As I look over the list, I know that there are more cancers being detected. We have learned how to detect these cancers and how to eat healthier. There are some things that are different, like more young women playing sports and teen pregnancies have been on the rise,” Sumner said. “We look at every issue and what we as women can do to see if there is legislation that we can agree on, push forth and set an agenda.”
Each woman feels passionate about different issues. Sumner is a strong advocate against domestic violence; Phillips, a retired elementary school counselor, feels strongly about bullying, sexting and child poverty. Geography doesn’t change women’s issues. Most of the women in the caucus find the issues to be universal whether in rural Mercer County or in the heart of Monongalia County.
The caucus is a bipartisan effort with both parties coming together and working on matters that impact West Virginia women. One issue Phillips and other women of the caucus want to push through the Legislature is the design of a statewide system to address the needs of rape victims in a way that is sensitive and timely.
The bill, sponsored by Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, would make sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) available to any rape victim in a timely fashion. With more SANE nurses, victims will not have to wait to be examined, Fleischauer said.
“A lot of hospitals don’t always have SANE nurses on call,” Fleischauer said. “Sometimes a woman would have to drive to another location and that is a horrible situation.”
The bill would also help provide transportation to a facility for rape victims who do not have personal vehicles or cannot drive to their designation.
“Some counties are already working together, but some don’t,” she added. “This way the whole state is covered and we are taking care of all victims in every county.”
Local hospitals, law enforcement and health care providers would be required to facilitate local plans.
Fleischauer and Phillips said the goal of the bill is to provide rural rape victims the same treatment as women in larger cities in the Mountain State. She doesn’t want a woman to turn down a examination because of the location or have to wait hours for a SANE nurse.
“Everybody should be treated as quickly as possible,” Fleischauer said.
Phillips said the bill will strengthen the amount of SANE nurses in the state.
The bill has been assigned to the Health and Human Resources.
“We have our work cut out for us. The Women’s Caucus will need to move on this bill,” Fleischauer said.
Other members of the caucus are delegates Karen Arvon, R-Raleigh; Anna Border, R-Wood; Denise Campbell, D-Randolph; Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia; Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha; Tiffany Elizabeth Lawrence, D-Jefferson; Linda Longstreth, D-Marion; Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia; Mary Poling, D-Barbour; Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha; Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha; Margaret Donaldson Smith, D-Lewis; Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell; Margaret Anne Staggers, D-Fayette; Erikka Storch, R-Ohio.
— Contact Jamie Parsell at email@example.com.