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Women in leadership at ND Legislature could be guaranteed if bill is passed

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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) – A bill introduced at the State Legislature Wednesday is turning some heads. Supporters say it would create more opportunities for women at the statehouse.

Do you know how many women are in the North Dakota House of Representatives? By my count, 26 out of 94. 26, many of whom have served multiple sessions. Yet not one of them chairs a committee, and none of them sit on the board that oversees the Legislature. And for Republican women in the House, that’s an issue. That’s why they’ve introduced House Bill 1311, which would require the House Majority Leader to appoint two women to chair committees.

“The three leaders I’ve worked under are not advancing women. There’s no way you can get around the statistics that there’s not an opportunity for women,” said Representative Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson.

The statistics she’s referring to? First of all, there hasn’t been a female chair in the House since 2013. And secondly, there have only been two sessions since 2003 where a Republican woman has served on Legislative management, which is like the board of directors for the State Legislature.

“49% of the population is women, and their voices have not been heard for many, many years. Because we can’t get into the inner circle,” said Representative Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson.

Chairmen are chosen by the House Majority Leader, a position currently held by Mike Lefor of Dickinson. He says he considered two female lawmakers for chairmanships, but they told him they’d rather be on the budget-oriented Appropriations Committee.

“I picked some people I feel most comfortable with in chairmanships, I didn’t base it on gender at all. I just put the team around me that I feel is best, and I feel I made the right decisions,” said Representative Lefor, R-Dickinson.

One example given by Representative Steiner is the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee (GVA), where she says senior women were passed over for their male colleagues with less experience.

“Serving on this session’s GVA committee are two women, who were first selected in 2010, the women have eight years more experience, and both served as vice chair previously in GVA. Both were passed over,” said Representative Steiner.

Representative Austen Schauer, the chairman of GVA, says he has nothing but respect for Representative Steiner.

“He won majority leader and he can pick his team, and he picked me for that role and I’ll just do the best I can do,” said Rep. Schauer, R-West Fargo.

As for freshmen lawmakers who would be affected by the bills, they say it’s an issue, especially with recent changes to how long legislators can serve.

“Particularly with term limits now, women aren’t going to get endless amounts of time to work their way up in leadership, and we need to confront it and we need to talk about it,” said Representative SuAnn Olson, R-Baldwin.

The bill also stipulated that, when the Republicans are in the majority, like they are now, the Majority Leader would prioritize women with a pro-life voting record. It received an 8-5 ‘do not pass’ from the committee. All five votes against the motion were women.

According to Representative Steiner, the issue of women in leadership only affects the House Republican caucus. There are women in leadership in both Democratic caucuses, and there are three female chairs of Senate committees. Next, this bill goes to the House floor.

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