North Dakota House kills bill to require women committee chairs

No woman has chaired a standing committee in the North Dakota House since 2013. Rep. Vicky Steiner said majority leaders have passed over qualified female lawmakers when selecting committee chairs.

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, speaks in support of House Bill 1311 on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, on the House floor at the North Dakota Capitol.
Darren Gibbins / The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — A bill to give women lawmakers automatic committee leadership positions in the North Dakota House of Representatives has died.

In a 10-83 vote on Friday, Feb. 3, representatives rejected House Bill 1311, which would have required the House majority leader to tap female members to chair two of the chamber’s 11 standing committees each biennial session.

A provision in the legislation sponsored by Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, would have set a standard that the women appointed to chair committees hold anti-abortion views “if the majority party's platform includes support for the right to life of unborn babies.”

No woman has chaired a standing committee in the House since 2013, and Steiner said last week she believes male majority leaders have repeatedly passed over qualified female representatives in favor of “their own inner circle of men who are their friends.”

Steiner directly appealed to the House women on Friday, telling them, “It doesn’t matter what you do. The men in your class will get opportunities years before you.”


In the end, only seven of the 27 women serving in the chamber voted for the bill.

New House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, a Republican who shares a district with Steiner, said last week he chose committee chairmen based on their abilities and his comfort level working with them. Lefor added that the bill would tie the hands of future leaders.

“Frankly, I believe it sets us backwards by carving out groups based on gender instead of working together as equal colleagues,” Lefor said in the statement last week.

Lefor also previously noted that he strongly considered two women to chair committees this session, but they both opted instead to serve on the influential House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, said Friday the House shouldn’t be passing bills that allow the Senate and the governor to weigh in on House rules.

Wide gender disparities exist across the Legislature. Only about a quarter of North Dakota’s lawmakers are women, ranking the state in the bottom 10 nationally for female legislative representation, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

The Senate has a lower proportion of women than the House, but three standing committees — Human Services; Judiciary; and State and Local Government — are chaired by female GOP legislators.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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