By GINA ROSE DIGIOVANNA
Las Vegas Review Journal
Cooking up legislative change that benefits women and children in Nevada takes more than an apron, if you ask members of the Nevada Women’s Lobby.
Not that they object to the garb of an earlier, simpler time. According to Marlene Lockard, lobbyist for the statewide organization, the group and its sympathizers staged Mad Men Monday in full view during the last legislative session — donning pearls, dainty “Jackie O” white gloves, and the inimitable apron.
They were making a point about archaic mindsets and “good bills that died early,” either because they didn’t have a hearing or didn’t make deadline, Lockard said. Among the dead: a paid sick leave bill, a voter rights bill, an equal pay bill, a domestic workers’ bill of rights, and a domestic violence bill.
Not everyone appreciated the sarcasm.
“An assemblyman said I looked great,” recalled Lockard. “I just needed a little redder lipstick on.”
The Nevada Women’s Lobby dates to 1988. According to its website, its menu of issues includes equity for women; nonviolence; reproductive choice; eliminating poverty; and removing barriers of race, class, age, gender, religion, physical ability, and sexual orientation. About 200 members pay dues, although the organization keeps a “resource list” of approximately 1,000, said Northern Co-Chair Pam Roberts.
When it comes to legislative sessions, the organization collaborates with groups such as the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, Planned Parenthood, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and the ACLU.
The group’s greatest accomplishments often involve playing defense, Lockard added. Take last year’s AB 375, the “bathroom bill” that limited transgender people to using school restrooms, locker rooms, and showers according to the gender with which they were born. The Nevada Women’s Lobby joined in a coalition of other groups, and the bill was eventually defeated.
Another victory for the lobby in 2015, according to Roberts, was blocking AB 405, the forced parental notification bill that would have restricted minors’ access to abortion, as well as a bill that would have allowed guns in vehicles at schools and childcare facilities, along with Assemblywoman Michele Fiore’s campus carry bill.
Nevada’s issues have come a long way since the ’70s, according to Lockard. But one throwback to those times — the Equal Rights Amendment and its failure in Nevada — continues to rankle the group.
In light of the Great Recession and concerns about jobs, balanced budgets, and funding for services, Roberts said, “it just seems like that’s an issue that was put on the back burner. Now that we’re more economically stable in our state, we can start to look at some of those issues more deeply.”
“We need it in the Constitution to make a definitive point,” said 68-year-old Wendy Boscak, an activist and former public school teacher and administrator. “I think it’s ridiculous that women are still fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 21st century.”
She marched for the cause while living in Vermont in the ’70s. Her more recent activity involved visiting the Nevada Legislature dressed as a suffragette.
Lockard recalled the opposition’s most recent testimony echoing the cry of the ’70s, including objections about women being drafted.
“They have the same buttons that they wore in the ’70s,” she observed.
One fierce opponent is Janine Hansen, a 2016 Independent American candidate for Nevada State Senate, District 19. She’s opposed the Equal Rights Amendment since the ’70s. The outcome of measures supported by the Nevada Women’s Lobby, she said, is “the destruction of the family. Government tries to fill the role of mother and father. The women’s lobby is always lobbying for more dollars to finance social programs. We don’t think it’s the role of government to be the nanny.”
As a single mother , and a working woman, she understands the difficulties, and she said she supports equal opportunities for women.
But she believes the statistics relied upon by the Nevada Women’s Lobby are “erroneous,” not taking into account factors that naturally deplete women’s income, such as having to take time off from work for childbearing.
In a reversing tide, women and families dependent on husbands are discriminated against because their husbands are discriminated against, she argued.
“We believe most people do want to take care of themselves,” she added. But stiffer taxes, less free enterprise, and too many social services that make people dependent are creating a “nation of slaves.”
From the perspective of the Nevada Women’s Lobby, training citizen lobbyists may help promote more freedom. Its “Grassroots Lobby Days,” a two-day event, typically attracts over 100 participants. It usually takes place in March, kicking off with workshops. The next day, new citizen lobbyists flood the legislature.
Most recently, they’ve raised awareness of the challenges faced by fast food workers trying to support families and home health care workers who perform heavy work with little compensation or time off.
Boszak has participated in the event and used the tools. Participants like her have given the Nevada Women’s Lobby a boost in other ways, too.
“It gives me the ability to say to legislators, ‘I know you met with some of the women of the lobby and remember their stories,’” Lockard said.
“They are the face of the issues and lives that we’re trying to improve.”