A new bill calls for an equal number of men and women on state boards and commissions | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A new bill calls for an equal number of men and women on state boards and commissions

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 2:40 PM

Just in time for Women's History Month, Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis) has filed HB 1676 to require equal representation of men and women on certain state boards and commissions.

The bill would not require anyone to exit a board or commission before the end of his or her term. Moving forward, any appointment would have to effectuate the requirement that an equal number of men and women serve on each and, in the event there is an odd number of positions, an equal number of men and women hold all appointed spots.

Governor Hutchinson has control of over 350 boards and commissions. Ferguson's bill only specifies 24 that would be required to adhere to the equal representation rules, including the State Highway Commission, the State Board of Education, the Parole Board and the Boards of Trustees of Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas.

Currently, five men and zero women make up the State Highway Commission, three men and six women are on the State Board of Education, five men and two women serve on the Parole Board, nine men and one woman are on the Board of Trustees for the University of Arkansas and three men and two women are on the Board of Trustees for Arkansas State University. The Game and Fish Commission, the Workers' Compensation Commission and the Racing Commission all join the Highway Commission in being woman-free zones.

This is not a new problem. Women have long been underrepresented on Arkansas boards and commissions. Governor Hutchinson has done some good toward rectifying the inequality (recently appointing Charley Jackson to the previously all-male Southern Arkansas University Board of Trustees) and some not-so-good (keeping the Highway Commission a boys' club with the appointment of Keith Gibson in January). For those interested in seeking an appointment to a state board or commission, here is how to apply.

This bill is a good start to achieving equal representation. What I'm not excited about is the boards and commissions made up of a majority women, such as the Board of Education, now may have to appoint more men to even out the numbers as women's terms expire instead of allowing women to be reappointed. However, it may be the best we can hope for right now. Ferguson has to navigate around legislators who will likely deny sexism exists as they have denied systemic racism exists.

My preference? Arkansas gained statehood in 1836 and has pretty much been run by men ever since. Let's have women be the majority on boards and commissions for the next 180 years and then start worrying about men having equal representation. I'm reminded of the question posed to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?" Her answer, " When there are nine." 

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