INDIANAPOLIS  – On Sept. 14 last year, I eagerly awaited the release of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data. All summer, I had been researching the gender wage gap and looked forward to putting the finishing touches on the Institute’s report, “Wages, Wealth, & Poverty: Where Hoosier Women Stand and Ways our State Can Close the Gaps.” 

My initial calculations that day came as a shock. Even as the nation saw a small narrowing of the gender wage gap, Indiana’s gap widened two percentage points from 24 to 26%, an annual difference of $12,717 between the median full-time male and female workers. 
 
Attention to Indiana’s pay gap and the many high-profile “me too” announcements occurring around the same time led me to think that the 2018 legislative session might bring some positive policy changes for working women. And sadly, it didn’t – but not for lack of good bills. 
 
A substantial portion of the gender wage gap cannot be explained away by occupation, experience, or education. Researchers suggest this reflects pay discrimination, and other states have taken steps to provide women with the tools to challenge these disparities. Retiring Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, once again filed a bill to help remedy pay discrimination by strengthening Indiana’s weak equal pay law. The bill had a Republican coauthor and a bipartisan Senate version. It got coverage in a press conference, but no hearing.
 
Wage gaps increase among parents, in part because more women than men are pushed out or opt out the workforce during or after pregnancy. Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, was joined by Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, on a bill to ensure that pregnant woman who wanted to continue working would be guaranteed access to reasonable accommodations at work, like bathroom breaks, water bottles, or lifting modifications. Because many women in Indiana lack access to paid leave or even to unpaid leave through FMLA, these accommodations can be essential to safely working throughout pregnancy. Again, no hearing. 
 
Paid family leave, an evidence-based way to keep women in the workforce and close experience gaps, did get a tiny nod from the Senate. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) put forward what ultimately became a bipartisan resolution to study paid family leave and it was adopted by a voice vote. Last year, a similar study proposal passed, but was not assigned to a summer study committee. Whether the Legislative Council will take the issue up this year remains to be seen.
 
The legislature did commit to a maternal mortality review committee. The percentage of Hoosier women dying while pregnant or during or after childbirth has been rising, and we currently rank 44th in the country for maternal deaths. The bill establishes a statewide committee to review maternal mortality cases, determine factors contributing to these deaths, and develop strategies for reducing mortality and morbidity in the future.  
 
Ironically, the strategies the Indiana General Assembly failed to even consider – closing wage gaps, making accommodations for pregnant women, and offering paid leave – might improve our maternal (and infant) mortality rates. It’s good that we will study maternal mortality. But if we want to get serious about improving outcomes for women, the legislature will have to actually focus on advancing bills that benefit them. 
 
Macey, PhD, is a policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families.