It’s been called the Year of the Woman, with women in 2018 scoring major political victories across the country and #MeToo-fueled uprisings knocking down powerful men in Hollywood, politics, the media and beyond.
In Hawaii, as the new year gets underway, some of that political energy is enshrined in new laws that take effect today, including a measure that seeks to shrink the pay gap between men and women and another law that seeks to improve the handling of evidence kits collected from sexual assault victims.
Another law, which makes no distinction between genders, increases the vehicle weight taxes on Oahu, which will leave a typical car owner paying about $35 more this year.
Beginning today, employers are prohibited from asking prospective hires about their salary and wage history under a new law that seeks to help bridge the gap between how much men and women earn.
In Hawaii, the median annual pay in 2017 for a woman working full-time was $40,434, compared to $48,074 for a man, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization. This translates to women being paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men, an amount slightly better than the national average.
Act 108 seeks to narrow this gap. If a woman is initially paid less than a man for comparable work, this pay disparity tends to persist in subsequent jobs because employers often base pay on past earnings, say the measure’s supporters. The new law seeks to break that cycle.
It also aims to address pay disparities experienced by minorities.
“There is no single bullet, no one thing that is going to bridge the gap,” said Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, a lead sponsor of the legislation.
“Hopefully, the fact that employers are not aware that you were underpaid to begin with, or use that as a means to determine salary … will be one more thing that could help as far as the gender gap.”
Hawaii is among 11 states that have enacted such “salary history bans,” according to a tally by HR Drive, which publishes news about the human resources industry. States and local jurisdictions, such as New York City and Pittsburgh, began enacting such restrictions in 2017.
Policy experts have discerned various reasons for the pay gap between men and women, such as lower pay in categories of work often performed by women and what some characterize as a “penalty” for bearing children. Studies have shown that the salaries of women who have children take a significant hit, while there is no effect on the pay of men who have children.
But there is a portion of the pay gap that is hard to attribute to any specific factor, said Susan Wurtzburg, policy chairwoman of the Hawaii chapter of the American Association of University Women, which was a strong backer of the new measure.
“At the end of examining all the factors that seem to make sense, there is about 5 to 6 percent that doesn’t relate to any factor, which we tend to think is just discrimination against women,” she said.
Act 108 also prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who disclose their own wages or inquire about the pay of others. Such “pay secrecy” prevents workers from pursuing claims of pay discrimination because they aren’t aware of the existing disparity, according to the law.
While attracting strong support from women’s advocacy groups and unions, the measure received pushback from business groups last year.
“We support equal pay, however we believe this legislation would ultimately devalue key factors in establishing wages, such as training, experience, education, and skill; and expand litigation opportunities,” wrote the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce in testimony on the bill.
ALTRES, a Honolulu-based employment agency, has been working to educate employers on how to comply with the new law. For instance, under Act 108, prospective employees can still voluntarily disclose wage and salary information, which can then be used to determine their pay, but ALTRES warns on its website that employers should use caution when doing so.
“To be frank, the salary history ban will further complicate the business of being an employer in Hawaii,” ALTRES writes.
Another law that takes effect today bolsters protections for sexual assault victims who choose not to file a police report at the time they undergo a medical forensic examination. During such exams, evidence is collected from the bodies and clothes of victims and stored in what is referred to as a rape kit, which can be tested for DNA evidence.
Act 113 clarifies that victims shall not be deemed to have waived their right to report the crime or have their rape kit tested in the future if they choose not to report the assault to law enforcement at the time they undergo the exam. The law also requires that agencies store the rape kits for at least six years if the victim is 18 or older at the time of the incident, and at least 20 years if the victim is under 18.
The victim must also be informed of the date that a kit will be disposed of at the time of the exam.
Act 113 also stipulates that victims not reporting their crime can request that rape kits be stored by a sexual assault program or center. The request needs to be made in writing, otherwise kits will be turned over to law enforcement for storage.
Other parts of the law took effect in July, including the creation of a Hawaii Sexual Assault Response and Training program to improve the manner in which rape kits are processed and tracked.
Hike in vehicle tax
On Oahu, motorists will need to pay the city an additional penny per pound in weight taxes to register their vehicles in 2019.
It’s the second part of a two-year vehicle weight tax hike introduced by Mayor Kirk Caldwell and approved by the City Council in 2017.
As part of their vehicle registration bill, Hawaii motorists must also pay a state weight tax (1.75 cents per pound) as well as flat state vehicle fee of $45 and, in
Honolulu, a flat city vehicle fee of $20.50 as well as a flat $7 beautification fee.