By STEPHEN FOWLER, NPR
A bipartisan group of women in the state senate delivered blistering remarks Wednesday about the makeup of the chamber’s 27 standing committees, most of whom are led by men.
It’s the latest drama in the senate, which opened last week with a controversial rule change that limited the window someone could file a complaint about alleged sexual harassment from a senator or staffer.
The biggest shakeup in Tuesday’s committee announcements came in the form of Renee Unterman (R-Buford) being stripped of her roles as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and vice chair of the Appropriations Committee.
Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan said that the number of women leading committees doubled from two during the last session to four during this session.
But on the senate floor Wednesday, Unterman decried her fellow Republicans’ decision to remove her from her other committees and said most of the committees with women leadership don’t have real power.
“Ladies of the senate, we are not the pitcher,” walking through all the positions on a baseball team. “As a matter of fact, we’re not even in the ballpark… we’re outside looking over a fence, and we’re climbing that fence and we’re trying to look into the ball field to see who’s playing.” Several Democratic women also spoke from the well about committee assignments and the earlier rule changes regarding sexual harassment.
Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) said it was “truly shocking” to see what she called revealing underrepresentation of women on the committees that consider and pass the most bills.
“Women senators comprise 28 percent of this body,” Parent said. “In all, women are underrepresented on eight of the nine committees that handle the most bills.” Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) told his colleagues that the same thing happened when Democrats were in control.
“The whining is not correct when it comes to the partisanship here,” he said. “This body has been more bipartisan than probably most chambers across America.”
One of the more pointed speeches was from Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), who said she was proud to chair the Special Judiciary Committee until learning it only saw six bills during the last two years.
“If all you’re going to do is put me in a committee and not give me any legislation to actually look at… shame on you,” she said before yielding the well.
In a statement, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan said the “worked diligently to position consensus builders as chairs, double the number of committees chaired by female senators, and ensure the minority party was afforded the unique opportunity to chair committees.”
The statement also said that any claim this year’s process was discriminatory is “nonsense.”