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Wilson Signs Bill Ending No-Pants Rule for Women

September 12, 1994|JERRY GILLAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — In a victory for working women that might also translate into women's votes, Gov. Pete Wilson on Sunday signed into law a bill that bars employers from prohibiting women employees from wearing slacks to work.

At the same time, the governor vetoed a measure to allow gay and other unwed couples to register with the state as domestic partners and obtain limited benefits now reserved for married couples.

"Women make important business decisions every day," the governor said of his signing the bill. "Indeed, working women should be able to make the simple choice on the professional business attire they wish to wear."

Wilson is running against Democrat Kathleen Brown for reelection and would like to get all the women's votes that he can.

As for the domestic partners bill, Wilson said, "We need to strengthen, not weaken, the institution of marriage."

"Government policy ought not to discount marriage by offering a substitute relationship that demands much less--and provides much less than is needed both by the children of such relationships, and ultimately much less than is needed by society."

But he simultaneously issued an executive order allowing competent hospital patients to designate whomever they choose as hospital visitors, which was one of the aims of the bill he vetoed. It was supported by homosexual groups.

The legislation to let women wear slacks in the workplace had been killed twice on the Senate floor, but its author, Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park) and other female Assembly members staged a march on the upper house to press their case.

"If women's legs are covered, our brains still function," Martinez said. "Women should be judged on their work performance, not whether they wear skirts or pants." The women's pants bill had already passed the Assembly by a 42-30 margin.

The new law, effective Jan. 1, also is designed to help stop gender-based price discrimination against women.

It directs the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to notify licensees that prices for haircuts must be based on the difficulty of providing the cut, not whether the customer is a woman or a man. Critics say many women are charged far more money than men for haircuts.

After killing the measure twice, the Senate--in the final hours of the just-ended two-year legislative session--reversed itself and approved an amended measure by Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier) on a 21-15 vote, the bare majority required for passage, to send it to the governor's desk.

Sen. Lucy Killea (I-San Diego), who previously had opposed the legislation on grounds that it trivialized advancements made by women, cast the decisive 21st vote.

The bill also requires the state Department of Consumer Affairs to develop information on how to best fight gender-priced discrimination.

The domestic partners bill, authored by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), would have permitted gay and other unwed couples to register with the state as domestic partners, and obtain limited benefits now reserved for married couples.

That measure, too, had a rough time in the Legislature.

It passed the lower house by a 45-26 vote and the Senate by a 21-17 vote. Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Sacramento) (D-Carmichael), recovering from surgery, had to leave his sickbed to cast the crucial 21st vote.

The rejected measure would have established a legal framework for domestic partnerships, required hospitals to grant partner visitation rights and changed state law relating to wills and conservatorships.

Katz argued the bill was "critical to the half-million people who live together in California and need to know that they can rely on their partner in an emergency."

But opponents of the measure charged it would condone homosexuality, erode the sanctity of marriage and demean family values.

The 1990 federal census showed 495,223 unmarried couples living in California, including 93% opposite-sex couples and 7% same-sex couples. Of the total number of unmarried couples, about 7% are senior-citizen couples.

Katz, in a statement blasting the governor, called the veto message "gobbledygook," and a smoke screen to avoid the real issues.

"It's pathetic, but not surprising, that the governor would ignore the needs of 1 million Californians, many of them low and middle-income seniors, to mollify the religious right," the Southern California lawmaker said.

"It's the difference between a leader and an also-ran, and it's sad that he didn't have the guts to stand up for what's right."

Laurie McBride, the executive director of the sponsoring Lobby for Individual Freedom and Equality, Inc., expressed "grave disappointment" at the veto. "It was a opportunity for the governor to exercise real leadership in way that would truly support all of California's families."

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