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Senator proposes eliminating Idaho Women’s Commission

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 11, 2009, 2:52 P.M.

BOISE - The head of the Idaho Women’s Commission told lawmakers Wednesday that women haven’t yet reached equity in Idaho - and the Legislature is the perfect example.

Kitty Kunz, the commission’s part-time director, said that’s why the state still needs the Women’s Commission, which a Sagle senator is seeking to eliminate. “We feel our purpose and value is still necessary,” she told the Legislature’s joint budget committee. “Have women in Idaho achieved equality? We only have to look at this body and the leadership in Idaho to see that that hasn’t happened. We have achieved a great deal … but we have … a long way to reach equity.”

Just a quarter of Idaho’s state lawmakers are women, eight of the 35 senators and 18 of the 70 House members. But according to the National Foundation for Women Legislators, which commissioned a national study in 2007, that puts Idaho above the national average. Nationwide, just 23.5 percent of state legislators were women in 2007, a figure that’s increased more than four-fold since 1971.

Among statewide elected officials, Idaho lags, however. Just one of the seven elected state offices is held by a female, state Controller Donna Jones, or 14 percent. Nationally, 24 percent of statewide elected offices are held by women.

Kunz said, “We believe that a well-run, fiscally conservative women’s commission has a role to play still. The Idaho Women’s Commission helps women become self-sufficient. We provide a lot of outreach.”

She told lawmakers that the tiny agency underspent its $30,600 state budget last year, spending only $26,700. “Because of our frugality, we had money to give back to the state last year,” Kunz said. “We’re well aware of being fiscally responsible and try to use our funds wisely.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who serves on the joint budget committee, asked no questions of Kunz; neither did anyone else on the panel. “I don’t think there was any willingness on the part of the committee to open up that can of worms,” Broadsword sad. “I’m going to do what I’m going to do. I have a pile of research. … I think their day has come and gone, and it’s time for Idaho to wake up to that fact.”

Broadsword, who last week introduced legislation to eliminate the commission, which she says is obsolete, said she’s had “words of encouragement from a goodly number” of those on the joint budget committee, which sets budgets for state agencies.

Kunz told the panel she supports a move by the governor’s administration to consolidate offices for very small agencies like hers. “We would like to continue to work with the governor’s office, the Department of Administration and other small agencies to consolidate our offices and save operating costs,” she said. “Working together will help our agencies cut costs.”

Broadsword acknowledged, “It is a very small amount of money.” But, she said, “It’s more, in my opinion, priorities. There are a number of groups that do very similar things, like the Idaho Women’s Network, the Health and Welfare 211 Care Line. I think there are a lot of private organizations out there that are providing the same services.”

Kunz said the women’s commission publishes a guide to family laws in the state, which a grant may soon allow to be translated into Spanish; and participates in regional and statewide conferences to educate women about everything from finances to retirement. It also participates in health outreach programs and other efforts to improve the status of women in Idaho, which studies show ranks low in comparison to other states on such measures as pay equity.

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