You might remember the debate from early in the WWAN years: No Childcare. Because, Livestock.
A minor, optional childcare stipend for legislators with children under 12 was scuttled because, well, livestock. Some ranchers pointed out that there is no one reimbursing them for having to hire folks to mind their cows and calves. As we recall, there was a lot of comparing women to heifers in that session.
We were incensed.
Jen wrote extensively--and was quoted almost as extensively--about the debate on the House Floor. Nick Reynolds did a great job covering the debate. We wrote about it here. Jen wrote about it here. She wrote about childcare as essential infrastructure here.
As things stand, there hasn't been any further debate or discussion about childcare for legislators. It comes up occasionally, in a hypothetical sense. You know what we mean. That sort of vague wondering without any kind of political will, "Maybe it would help some folks? Maybe more younger people would run for the legislature? Who's to say."
And then Colorado stepped up and passed a bill that would provide parental leave to legislators.
Here's what Jen said to reporters:
“There's something of a narrative around why there are so few women in the state legislature,” said Jen Simon of the Wyoming Women’s Action Network, which focuses on ways to increase female political representation in the state.
That narrative includes geography. Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, is in the southeast corner of the state, which, for a legislator in, say, Cody, is a six-hour drive – often longer in the winter. Additionally, the citizen legislature pays a paltry per diem that, at most, is $150 per day. Lawmakers also lack access to benefits like health insurance.
“If you had a paid parental leave policy across the board, you would really be signaling that we do want new moms to be here. We do want parents of young children to be here. And I think that that's whether we're talking about maternal leave or paternal leave,” Simon said.
Still, she points out that female political representation is also low at the municipal level, with a relative few becoming county commissioners, mayors, and city councilors. Some of those positions do pay salaries and offer health insurance.
“So I want to just emphasize that there's sort of a larger obstacle somewhere in our system here in Wyoming that we're not getting more women in office at any level right now,” Simon said.
So, we're hopeful that the Wyoming Legislature might take notice. That the new legislators--men and women--who are parents of young children might see the value in passing policy to support families.
We all stand to benefit.