How Georgia Jewish Women Percolated Change

National Council of Jewish Women Atlanta celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2020 with tributes to public policy legislation this NCJW chapter spurred. The examples are instructive. Dr. Nancy Levine, Atlanta chapter president before earning a Ph.D. in political science and becoming a public health analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recalled how NCJW advocacy efforts changed her thinking on public policy. “I always thought good policy began at the Federal level and then ‘steam-rolled’ across all states the way the landmark laws of the 1960’s started: the Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, and Medicare. But NCJW showed me that good public policies can also start in the states, and if they’re successful, other states will adopt them…then the policy can percolate up to the federal government to become national law. States, in other words, are laboratories for national policies.

“I saw this happen with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In 1988, U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, conducted hearings across the country on work-family issues. The testimonies from people who lost their jobs when they had to choose between their families or work were heartbreaking. Women were fired when they took maternity leave; people were fired if they took time away from work to care for seriously ill spouses, children or parents. Representative Schroeder introduced the first FMLA in Congress in 1988. It failed.

“I was incensed! I went to Washington and met with Sammie Moshenberg, then NCJW’s lead lobbyist. We went to the Women’s Legal Defense Fund where I announced that NCJW’s Atlanta section would get FMLA passed in Georgia. They told me this would be extremely hard, since Georgia was the worst state in the nation for job security. With 9-to-5, the national working women’s association, we formed a state-wide coalition of over 40 organizations, conducted work-family hearings, wrote an FMLA bill using best practices from other states, and four years later, in 1992, Governor Zell Miller signed Georgia’s FMLA into law! On August 5, 1993, FMLA, modeled after our Georgia law, was the first bill President Bill Clinton signed into national law.”