Feb 1, 2024 - Politics

Iowa's imperiled gender balance law

Illustration of a briefcase with a female symbol shaped hole.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A law promoting gender balance on Iowa's state and local government boards or commissions is expected to be repealed this year.

Why it matters: It's a result of legislative efforts and a recent federal judge's order that it's unconstitutional and cannot be enforced for elections to the State Judicial Nominating Commission.

  • Multiple members of the League of Women Voters of Iowa told lawmakers soon after a separate repeal bill was introduced last year that the law has for decades promoted diversity, which elevates voices and issues that make for more effective governments.

Yes, but: Some governments have struggled to meet the requirements.

  • And while there aren't penalties for remaining unbalanced, three plaintiffs who prevailed last month in the federal case argued that the law allows governments to exclude qualified candidates only because of their gender.

Catch up fast: Iowa's gender balance was established for state-level boards and commissions in 1987, when Republican Terry Branstad was governor.

State of play: There are more women serving in local governments in recent years but the progress toward equal representation has been slow, according to the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

  • Women filled just over 38% of county boards and commissions in the fiscal year ending June 2022 — roughly 10 percentage points greater than eight years earlier, according to center data.

What's happening: The state's Boards and Commissions Review Committee, which is linked with government reorganization, recommended to Gov. Kim Reynolds last year that Iowa eliminate gender balance requirements, describing them in a preliminary report as "arbitrary," the Register reports.

What they're saying: There's a likelihood that the Iowa law will be repealed this year, Karen Kedrowski, director of the Catt Center, tells Axios.

  • She believes that would result in a decline of women in Iowa government.

The other side: Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) told a committee last year that the law is no longer necessary after he introduced legislation to repeal it.

  • "The law has to change along with the culture, which no longer needs a quota system," Schultz said.

Of note: Iowa is one of nine states with laws encouraging gender parity, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

  • Sarah Boese, deputy county administrator, tells Axios that the law's potential repeal will not dramatically alter efforts in Polk County to find qualified and diverse candidates to fill boards and commissions.

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