Iowa Senate votes to get rid of gender balance requirement on state and local boards and commissions

DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has voted to repeal a law that requires state and local boards and commissions to have an equal number of men and women. Iowa was the first state in the nation to pass a gender balance requirement and Governor Kim Reynolds is asking lawmakers to end it.

Republican Senator Annette Sweeney of Iowa Falls says she never wants to learn she’s been selected as the token female on a board.  “I want to be there because I earned it,” Sweeney said. “I want to be there because I’ve done my homework and I know why I’m on this board.”

Senator Chris Cournoyer, a Republican from Le Claire, says it’s insulting to have someone picked to serve on a board because of their gender rather than their qualifications.  “Women who have worked hard to earn their success should not have that success diminished by those that depend on a system that allows them to fall upward,” Cournoyer said.

Senator Herman Quirmbach of Ames was the only Democrat to support getting rid of the gender quota. Quirmbach says choosing people based on merit means some boards will wind up being majority female since more women than men are earning college degrees.  “The rising generation of women are better educated and better prepared for public service, as a group, than their male cohort,” Quirmbach said.

Other Democrats argued the gender balance requirement should be retained. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, says having an equal number of men and women on the same board means the discussion is balanced.  “You know when we bring different perspectives to the table we’re safer, we’re healthier, we’re happier people,” Petersen said.

Senator Sarah Trone-Garriott, a Democrat from Waukee, says the gender balance requirement is needed because the world still isn’t fair.  “Sometimes more qualified women don’t get leadership opportunities until that less qualified man is taken out of the equation,” Trone-Garriott said.

Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum of Dubuque says the gender balance requirement gets more people involved in their communities.  “Boards and commissions are that beginning foundation where we begin to build the bench for our future leaders,” Jochum said, “whether they are men or women.”

A federal judge recently ruled the gender balance requirement for the state commission that nominates judges was unconstitutional.