The Utah Legislature is quietly moving to formally recognize the important role of women in the economy and to address some of the obstacles and disparities that exist in the Beehive State.
Utah senators will soon take up HB90, which would create a two-year Women in the Economy Commission, an 11-member body of legislators, academics, service providers and business people.
The commission would work with public agencies and private organizations that provide services to Utah women in the economy or work to protect their rights. The effort would include evaluating the effectiveness of policies and programs geared to help women and providing information to the public on available services.
The commission would take a look at the human element of the economy, according to House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, the chief sponsor of the measure. Among other goals, she wants to find ways to improve educational attainment and identify barriers that impede women’s economic success.
The bill doesn’t mention any of the specific obstacles women encounter in Utah but they have been documented in past studies, including a report last year by a liberal think tank that gave the state a failing grade in several critical measurements.
In "The State of Women in America," the Center for American Progress gave Utah an overall rank of 49th in the nation and an overall grade of F. The breakdown was 43rd on economic security, 50th on leadership and 34th on women’s health and healthy families.
Utah women make 70 cents for every dollar a man makes, compared to the national average of 77 cents, according to the report. Utah has the largest college education gap in the nation, which contributes to the wage gap, the study found. And women in the Beehive state have been slower to move into non-traditional jobs that pay more, such as in the construction trades.
The Center for American Progress also said Utah women are lagging in leadership roles in the private sector, where they hold 31.8 percent of managerial jobs. That’s the third-worst showing in the nation, where overall, women hold 38 percent of those spots.
On Wednesday, the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee voted 4-0 to give a favorable recommendation to HB90 authorizing the commission. The measure will now move for a vote to the full Senate, where Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, is the sponsor. It passed the House on a 71-0 vote on Feb. 26.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, the committee chairman, said there is a need to assess the situation in the state. And Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said that "we need to make sure women are paid what men make" doing the same work.
One Utah woman spoke against the bill at Wednesday’s hearing: Dalane England, of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum. England said she launched her own insurance business at age 23 and said she feels "a little insulted" by the measure.
"There was nothing in the law that made it more difficult for me as a woman to start my business," England said. "I don’t see why women need to have special concessions. We should all be treated the same. I just think if we’re going to do special concessions, let’s do them for women and men."
Enactment of HB90 could cost $55,000 annually during its two years of existence for commission staff support, travel and other expenses, according to a legislative fiscal analysis. Of that amount, $7,000 a year would come from the state and the rest from federal funds.
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