To quote a senator: the Senate unanimously passed the “first substantive bills besides budgets we’ve done this year” over the past week.
(Breezing past the obvious point here that it took almost 11 months to get things moving on the third floor) — the argument Sen. Pat Jehlen made at a press conference following the Senate session was an interesting one.
“I think it makes a difference, representation makes a difference… Because last week was pay equity and this week it was menstrual access,” Jehlen said.
The two priority policy bills that have so far managed to make their way to the Senate floor for a vote were championed by the Women’s Caucus and, critically, by Senate President Karen Spilka.
The Senate unanimously approved two health care access measures on Thursday, one which would require public buildings such as schools, correctional facilities and temporary housing to make tampons and pads accessible at no cost to those who need them.
And last week, the upper chamber quickly passed a bill aimed at closing gender and demographic wage gaps. Jehlen thanked Spilka for prioritizing these issues that primarily affect women and LGBTQ+ folks, again pointing to the power of having a woman leading the chamber.
So does having a woman at the helm affect what legislation takes priority?
The last time the Senate had a man in the top job, Sen. Stan Rosenberg, the first stand-alone, “substantive” bill that body passed was legislation to create an early retirement incentive program.
Under the last male Senate president before that, Sen. Robert Travaglini ushered through a bill to provide municipalities with tax relief as the chamber’s first major legislation of the 2003-2004 session.
At that time women made up about a quarter of the Legislature. Today they represent close to a third.
“Let’s get that number over 50 percent. I want to serve in a matriarchy, and let me tell you, it works pretty darn well,” Sen. Julian Cyr said at Thursday’s press conference. “I have the honor of serving with Sen. Jehlen and the Senate president and scores of brilliant women — and a few good men.”