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Nation's First Female-Majority Legislature Adjourns

The bipartisan group of female lawmakers in the Nevada Legislature.
Nevada's Legislative Councel Bureau
The bipartisan group of female lawmakers in the Nevada Legislature.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Congress passing the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Now, a century later, the nation's first female-majority legislature has wrapped up their work in Carson City, Nevada.

For 120 days, the Nevada Legislature operated as usual. Bills were introduced, sent to committee, debated, voted on and then sent to the governor. There was a lot of speculation as to how the session would differ from those of the male-dominated past. And now that the session is over, the speculation continues. 

It was a particularly prolific year, but Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton says it wasn't necessarily because women made up the majority.

“I think we far exceeded anything that we thought we could do. The gun bills, education, family stuff, workers' stuff, collective bargaining--I mean, just look at all the things that we got done, that we’d been working on for years and years and years,” Carlton said.

The legislature also passed a marriage ban for teens under 17 years old and, at a time when some states are passing laws criminalizing abortion, this majority female legislature did the opposite. Carlton puts their overall success this session down to this:

“We had all the right people in the right committees, and we had a governor that was willing to support us and have conversations about how we move the state forward.”

Lawmakers in Nevada have always been willing to reach across the aisle, according to Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus. Still, she believes women do approach politics differently and that played a part, too.

“We problem-solve differently," says Titus. "We negotiate differently. I think we see that. We see that in our caucus room. We have a softer tone in our caucus room, I think sometimes. I think we listen a little more. There’s a little bit of mothering going on, too, maybe some more parenting happening that I haven't seen in other sessions for sure.”

In addition, to the female majority itself, women made up a vast majority of the body's leadership. This session, women chaired 14 of the legislature’s 20 standing committees, including all of the relatively powerful finance committees. Nowhere was that paradigm shift more apparent than Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro becoming the first female Senate majority leader in Nevada’s history.

“It is... It’s humbling. I hope that I can set a good example for those that will certainly come after me and what it means to come to this legislative session with an eye towards helping my home state and making opportunities happen for kids just like me,” she said.

It’s hard to tell whether Cannizzaro or the female-majority have had a real impact at this stage, according to Kelly Dittmar. She’s an associate professor of political science at Rutgers and a scholar at the American Center for Women and Politics.

“I think it’s hard to measure that change in culture and dynamics of leadership in any one session. So, I think it’s hard to look at the last session in Nevada and say everything has changed, right?” Dittman says.

Historically, Western states have had a higher rate of women serving in politics. Currently, it averages 34.5 percent, with states like Nevada and Colorado leading the pack with 52 and 47 percent, respectively.

There are outliers and those tend to be states dominated by Republicans, like Utah and Wyoming, where the GOP has struggled in recent years to recruit women to run for office. 

Freshman Assemblywoman Sarah Peters says the female majority demonstrates government can be inclusive.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I’m proud to be a part of this. It was pretty phenomenal, pretty wonderful, a wonderful group of people in Nevada," Peters says.

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