Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Legislative Advocacy on Women’s and Children’s Issues
16-League Coalition Adds School Nutrition to Its Agenda for Change; Urges State’s ‘Amazing Women’ to Step Up for Positions in New Administration
Members of the new California State Legislature can expect to hear from a formidable advocate with a 40-year history of fighting for women’s and children’s issues – the Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee (“SPAC”), which represents the more than 11,000 members of 16 Junior Leagues across California.
Founded in 1970, California SPAC is one of The Junior League’s oldest and largest state public affairs committees, whose goals are to serve as the voice of the women and children in the communities they serve by introducing and supporting state legislation that improves the lives of women and children in the communities we serve. Other Junior League SPACs are in New Jersey, New York, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington State, along with single-League advocacy groups in St. Louis and Denver. Some 95 individual Leagues with more than 52,000 members are involved these efforts across the country.
“SPACs and other League-sponsored public affairs groups represent some of the most effective advocacy efforts at the state level for women’s and children’s issues,” said Delly Beekman, President of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI), and a former leader of New Jersey SPAC. “SPACs bring a strong non-partisan and non-commercial voice at the state level to important issues like women’s health, childhood obesity, internet safety and human trafficking.”
California SPAC’s current and recent initiatives include:
- Efforts to erase food insecurity and improve the nutritional content in school meals in California through advocacy of provisions of the federal Childhood Nutrition Act designed to remedy these issues and co-sponsorship of state legislation which encourages more schools to provide students with breakfast so no child is hungry while learning.
- Encouraging the state’s “amazing women,” including League members and non-profit community partners, to apply for appointments to a state board, commission, or agency in the new gubernatorial administration.
- Sponsorship of Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 105, which designates May as Perinatal Depression Awareness Month in California, and encourages formation of a taskforce to further research the causes and treatment barriers of depression afflicting expecting and new mothers.
Ms. Beekman noted that California SPAC’s work in Sacramento is similar in energy and scope to activities carried out by other SPACs, including:
- New Jersey SPAC sponsored the first statewide conference on human trafficking in New Jersey in 2009. The conference produced a new piece of legislation co-sponsored by two of its speakers, State Senators Tom Kean Jr. and Sandra Cunningham. NJ SPAC’s second event, held in November, focused on identifying new legislation to address human trafficking, a major social issue in New Jersey.
- Florida SPAC meets three times a year to discuss issues to support. FL SPAC’s long-standing focus issues include children aging out of foster care, girls and juvenile justice and childhood obesity. More recent focus issues include booster seat legislation, human trafficking and cyber crimes, particularly pedophiles using the internet to prey on children, and cyber bullying.
- Georgia SPAC is currently focused on internet safety for children and human trafficking, and supports the adoption of state laws to address the problems in both areas. In addition, GA SPAC supports Senate Bill 5, which would close the loophole in Georgia’s seat belt law that allows exemptions for certain vehicles, including pickup trucks, and House Bill 23, which would ban cell phone use and texting by minors while driving.
- Michigan SPAC targets women’s and children’s issues with a multi-year focus. For 2011, MI SPAC is looking to write its own bill and seek sponsors for passage, focusing on information on school nutrition and human trafficking. Most recently, it has supported laws that created smoke-free restaurants and other public establishments as well as the restriction of chemicals used to treat lice to medical offices and clinics. Delegates meet every month in Lansing except for summer months.
- New York SPAC, in addition to issues like children’s nutrition and aging out of foster care, has an ongoing focus on helping victims of domestic violence. Initiatives include helping women with a history of being battering victims earn time off of their sentences and advocating for judges to take a history of domestic abuse into account during sentencing. Among NY SPAC’s successes are support of the New York Safe Harbor Law, which addresses the issue of human trafficking, and a smaller law that impacts trafficked women who are victims of domestic abuse.
- Denver’s Public Policy Committee’s focus is on women’s and children’s issues. In 2009, JLD sponsored the Healthy Choices Dropout Prevention Program, which aims to develop dropout interventional approaches that target middle-school aged children. The League is currently in the fundraising stage, looking to procure funding for a pilot program. The League also saw success in the passing of several bills it supported, targeting issues such as gender equity in health insurance coverage and farm-to-table bills. JLD has developed a new committee, the community impact group, whose focus can be redefined to address those issues most affecting the Denver area
- St. Louis’ State Legislative Issues Committee is working with Missouri State Representative Sue Allen, Missouri Senator Jane Cunningham and Tina Meier, founder of the Megan Meier Foundation, to enact a cyberbullying standard that applies to all of the school districts in Missouri, modifying the recently passed House Bill No. 1543 in Missouri.
“Junior Leagues are never as powerful as when they join together to achieve a common goal,” said Ms. Beekman. “California SPAC has been the model in so many ways for Leagues in other states to create critical mass and an ongoing focus on issues of great importance to their own members as well as The Junior League as a whole.”