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Women Win Record Number of Seats in State Legislatures With PM-Women-Legislatures-Glance

November 19, 1992

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ Women will be represented in record numbers in state Legislatures across the country, giving them the opportunity to change governmental priorities with every new seat.

″Women tend to focus on issues that affect women’s lives, children’s lives, families’ lives,″ said Lucy Baruch, information director for the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University. ″They bring to the table a different political agenda.″

As a result of the November election, women will constitute a record 20 percent of state legislators in 1993, up from 5 percent in 1971 and 18 percent this year, the center said.

More than 60 percent of them are Democrats; 38.5 percent are Republicans.

Washington leads the nation with 38 percent of its legislators female. Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire and Vermont rounded out the top five.

Washington also elected women to one of two U.S. Senate seats, three of nine U.S. House seats and four of nine elected executive offices.

″The state of Washington is in a state of euphoria,″ said Ruth Mandel, the center’s director. ″It will be very interesting ... to see if it makes any significant difference in the political process.″

The center’s research from the late 1980s - when women represented 17 percent of state lawmakers - showed that women legislators do more for women and are more likely to conduct government business openly.

″They are more collaborative,″ said Sara Gear, the Vermont House Republican leader who won a state Senate seat.

″They don’t seem to have the male ego problem that some, not all, men seem to have,″ she said. ″I think that’s the basis of compromise: trying to find the solution rather than holding out for their own particular solution.″ Sue Mullins, executive director of the women’s network of the National Conference of State Legislatures, agreed.

″By and large, (women) tend to pull more people in and work on a consensus point of view. It’s not so top-down,″ she said.

Although the ″women’s agenda″ looks different in each state and women cover the spectrum on abortion rights, Mullins predicted women will help focus the health-care debate nationwide.

″I’m sure that women will be pushing preventative health care as it never has been pushed before,″ she said. ″Prevention is a very common sense approach, and I think women tend to use common sense.″

In North Carolina, women’s groups hope more women legislators will boost efforts to make it a crime for a husband to rape his wife if he lives with her. The legislature will have 31 women next session, up from 24 in 1987 when lawmakers last rejected such a provision.

Women already have proven a force in shaping legislation, lawmakers said.

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, cites legislation in the last session requiring insurers to pay for bone-marrow transplants for breast- cancer victims. The bill passed despite intense opposition from the insurance lobby.

″Those are issues women will carry the ball on,″ she said.

In Washington state three years ago, women legislators of both parties marched on the governor’s office as the Ladies’ Terrorist Society and Sewing Circle in support of legislation requiring insurance companies to offer mammogram coverage.

And in Arizona, a majority of women in both parties pushed legislation allowing juries hearing spousal murder cases to hear about a history of violence in the relationships, said Debbie McCune-Davis, the Democratic minority whip.

″The proposal came from a woman who understood that issue, and it was supported by women who understood the issue,″ she said.

In terms of legislative leadership, Mullins said, the increasing number of women legislators puts more women in the pipeline.

″We’re building more of a bench, as the boys like to say,″ she said.

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