'Way overdue': Women's causes take center stage at state Capitol Thursday

It was International Women's day Thursday, and for those stepping inside the state Capitol there was no forgetting it. 

Hundreds of women started their day at an "Equal Rights Amendment Rally," joining a movement that's been around for more than 40 years but is far from over. The measure was passed by Congress in 1972 but never ratified by enough states to be included in the U.S. Constitution, leaving it in limbo for decades.

"It's way, way, way overdue," said Carol Robertson, a 102-year-old champion of the women's movement who says the fight is just beginning. "I feel that in all ways women are going backwards now rather than forwards."

So with a full day dedicated to women and their causes, the Minnesota legislature got to work on several measures that they said fit the bill.

First up was a bill designed to protect access to birth control by guaranteeing insurance coverage for FDA-approved contraceptive drugs, announced in front of a receptive crowd by co-author Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and a host of other women in the legislature.

“We all benefit from women having control over their bodies and reproductive choices,” Pappas said at the event. “I will be even more proud when one day it is not something we have to fight for.”

Lawmakers, including Pappas and Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, also announced a measure to eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct and sex trafficking, invoking the #MeToo movement that's empowered many women to come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment.

“The current statute of limitations for these crimes are simply arbitrary dates that don’t help survivors of sexual violence reach justice,” said Rep. Omar in a statement. “We want to help survivors have as many choices and tools to seek justice as possible, whenever they are ready to do so.”

If passed, the law would apply to accusations of sexual violence committed on or after Aug. 1, 2018.