What have the GOP women in Iowa Senate been doing?

There’s always a great deal of talk about electing more women to public office, but I’ve not seen too much written in relation to what those women do once they are in office.

Well, this post isn’t intended to be a definitive answer to such extremely broad curiosity, but am hoping the information I present here will provide at least some level of understanding about what has been a focus of the women who serve in the Iowa House and Senate. For this particular post, I’m highlighting the four Republican women who are part of the Senate.

Since it is probably easier to do than it is to explain, let’s just get on with it…

The Iowa Senate has 50 members, each representing a specific segment of state. Of those 50 members, eight are women. And of those eight women, four are Republicans and four are Democrats. Although women comprise slightly more than half the state’s population, women hold only 16 percent of available Senate seats. Among Senate Republicans, women hold roughly 17 percent influence; and, among Senate Democrats, women hold roughly 15 percent influence.

Women on the GOP side of the aisle in the Senate are:

Nancy Boettger is a former educator from Harlan who serves as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is also ranking member of the Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and also serves on the Education and Human Resources Committees. She has sponsored 37 bills during the 84th General Assembly (31 during 2011 and 6 during 2012); four joint resolutions (3 during 2011 and 1 during 2012); three concurrent resolutions (2011); and 12 Senate resolutions.

Joni Ernst is a former Montgomery County auditor and a military veteran. She serves on four Senate committees — Local Government, Transportation, Veterans Affairs and Natural Resources & Environment — as well as the Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee. She has sponsored 40 pieces of legislation (26 during 2011 and 14 during 2012); two joint resolutions (2011); three concurrent resolutions (2011) and seven Senate resolutions.

Sandy Greiner and her husband own and operate a farm near Koeta in Washington County. She serves as ranking member on the Economic Growth/Rebuild Iowa Committee and as a member of the Agriculture, Government Oversight and Veteran Affairs committees. Greiner has sponsored 17 pieces of legislation (14 in 2011 and 3 in 2012); four joint resolutions (2011); three concurrent resolutions (2011) and five Senate resolutions.

Pat Ward, a former public and government relations executive for an Illinois utility, now makes her home in Clive and is an assistant GOP leader in the Senate. She is ranking member of the Labor and Business Relations Committee, and a member of the Commerce, Economic Growth/Rebuild Iowa and Judiciary committees. She has sponsored 21 pieces of legislation (17 during 2011 and 4 during 2012); five joint resolutions (4 during 2011 and 1 during 2012); two concurrent resolutions (2011) and four Senate resolutions.

Because the women often sign on as sponsors of the same pieces of legislation, they have a total of 63 pieces between them (46 during 2011 and 17 during 2012). The following pie chart shows the distribution of the proposals by committee:

Source: State of Iowa

As you can see, the largest percentage has fallen under the authority of the State Government Committee, which is fairly interesting because none of the four women serve on that body. These 14 bills represent some of the pet projects that were taken on by Iowa Republicans. For instance, legislation mandating voters show identification while voting is among the bills as are several that seek to diminish labor unions. There was also a call for a hiring freeze by state departments, and discussion regarding the sale or lease of the Iowa Communications Network.

It’s worth noting here that none of these bills were passed out of committee — actually, none of the bills sponsored by the GOP women made it out of committee. There is a possibility, however, that language or ideas included in the bills were placed in other pieces of legislation that did pass.

The two committees that receive the next largest share of the women’s proposals were Ways & Means and Human Resources. Looking at Ways & Means first, there are several bills that deal with taxes — i.e., a bill that would allow teachers to take an income tax credit for purchased supplies, property tax adjustments for Iowans over the age of 65, reduction of corporate tax rates, and tax allowances or waivers for active and retired military.

Religious conservative battles were extremely evident in the bills provided to the Human Resources Committee. That is, six of the nine bills sponsored by GOP women were directly related to abortion — all six of them sponsored by Boettger, who sat on the committee. All the bills sought to restrict access to abortion, although some went much further than others.

The three remaining Human Resources bills dealt with establishing a right to choose health care, requiring Social Security number verification for state services and creating a process so that parents of stillborn infants could be issued birth certificates. (Currently the state of Iowa provides nothing by way of a paper trail to parents of stillborns, although some hospitals will give the parents various mementos like foot or hand prints on a certificate.)

The women, and especially Ernst, also signed on to several bills related to firearms, including proposals that would end the requirement of gun permits. Ernst was also extremely active within the Veterans Affairs Committee, asking for special license plates for female veterans, for Iowa driver’s licenses to include a voluntary annotation for veteran status and several tax reduction packages for the benefit of military veterans and retirees.

Like the various proposed bills, all of the joint resolutions sponsored by the GOP women were stalled. They included a call for the legislature to switch holding sessions once every two years (instead of every year), changes to the way justices are appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court and, of course, a direct address of same-sex marriage.

The concurrent resolutions, which often hope to send messages of support or disapproval to federal elected officials, also held a partisan bent. One spoke against certain federal mandates, another pushed for Congress to propose a parental rights amendment and the third urged a national balanced budget amendment.

Senate Resolutions aren’t typically happenings in Des Moines that would be included in a round-up like this because they are typically so non-controversial. For instance, one of the adopted Senate Resolutions that was co-sponsored by Boettger and Ernst recognizes March 2011 as Iowa Women’s History Month. Another invited the people of Japan to Iowa for the rededication of the Japanese Bell of Peace and Friendship. Just a few days ago, a resolution was adopted to congratulate and recognize Iowa State’s Dr. Dan Shechtman for receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

While the resolutions are still used for these purposes, they’ve also become more politically charged. For instance, all four GOP women co-sponsored a resolution in support of the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which the Obama administration has placed on hold. Another urges Congress to permanently extend existing tax cuts, while a third expresses disapproval with a federal proposal regarding farm labor.

If you’d like a more detailed look at the legislation and resolutions supported by these four women, you can download a PDF copy of my worksheet.

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A Republican turned Democrat who is now registered with no party, Lynda is the founder of Essential Estrogen. She and her husband live in eastern Iowa with their two (mostly good) children and two (mostly good) dogs. Their oldest child was turned loose on the world in 2011 and is making her home in another state. A journalist, essayist and hobby fiction writer, Lynda's work has been seen in Salon, RH Reality Check, the Atlantic, The Iowa Independent, UK Guardian as well as other online and traditional publications. She has also appeared as a guest on various television and radio news shows.

One Response to “What have the GOP women in Iowa Senate been doing?”

  1. PatLil
    February 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Seems to me this could have been a lot shorter. Maybee even just a headline saying the GOP women in the Senate haven’t been doing much unless you count attacks on other women