Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo) knew the second that when Senator Margaret Dayton (Republican – Orem) stood up to speak on HB 56 – Women in the Economy Commission Amendments that he was going to hear some familiar questions.
The bill, which came from Representative Becky Edwards (Republican – North Salt Lake), is quite simple. The commission itself is designed to increase public and government understanding of the current and future impact and needs of women in the state’s economy and how to meet these needs. When the commission was first created the law specifically stated that it was scheduled to end in July of this year. Edwards’ bill removes the section of law that says the commission has an expiration date, allowing it to be a permanent feature of state government – primarily because of how successful it has been at identifying issues and starting discussions among policymakers and the public.
As part of Senate procedure, if one senator wishes to ask another senator a question, they ask if they may do so. Normally the answer is a simple yes, however, when Bramble was asked if he would yield, after a long pause, he asked: “how long do I have to decide?” before accepting.
Dayton, who lists her profession as “homemaker” on the Senate’s information page, was quick to question if women truly had difficulty in the modern workplace and if the commission was necessary.
“This continues the women in the economy commission, is that correct?” asked Dayton. “Yes,” Bramble responded.
“Is there a ‘Men in the Economy Commission?” Dayton continued.
“Mr. President, if that is a serious question” Bramble responded before being interrupted by Dayton “it is.”
Bramble pressed forward – “if you will look at the word ‘woman,’ men is in the second half of the word – so I would answer yes.”
Unphased, Dayton continued – “So, the title of this ‘Women in the Economy Commission’ implies a divisiveness in the government – this is a serious question – implying that the women need special help, whereas I feel that all citizens should be treated fairly under the government and have special help. And there is not a Men in the Economy Commission, so I am wondering about the value of this commission – that’s the reason for my questions.”
Senator Deidre Henderson (Republican – Spanish Fork), who sits on the commission stood to defend the bill “there is definitely value there.”
Henderson would point to issues such as licensure that negatively affect women and the wage gap as examples of how the commission has begun to address serious issues concerning women in the economy. Henderson also noted that there is a disparity and an unfair playing field for women in the workforce in general and the commission helps to identify such issues. “It isn’t just about how government programs can help…it is a look at regulatory environments that harm women. It is a fact [that things are not fair]” Henderson would conclude before voting in favor of the bill.
Senator Lincoln Fillmore (Republican – South Jordan) wondered if there is “any work that this commission does that would have to be done by a commission like this that couldn’t or isn’t already being done in the private sector that would allow bodies like ours to have that information without the creation of a special commission?” Bramble would acknowledge that, though some work the commission does could be achieved in the private sector, the issues and challenges women face are different from the challenges men face in our economy and that there are specific things government can do that could not be duplicated in the private sector.
Dayton stood one last time to voice her opposition before the vote.
“I’m quite convinced if we had a ‘Men in the Economy Commission’ there would be a hew and cry from the women that there was [a] men in the economy issue that did not include women. Everything that was said on behalf of this bill – that women have challenges that men don’t, the opposite is true. Men have challenges that women don’t. I think in all fairness there is not a need to avoid the sunset on this, I think we need to have everyone equal under the law,” Dayton would tell the body before voting no.
Dayton and Fillmore were joined by Senators Alan Christensen (Republican – Ogden), Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City), and Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) in voting against the bill. However, their five no votes were not enough, as 23 other senators supported the idea – the bill is expected to receive a final vote on Thursday.