Women's Lobby focuses on improving opportunities

By Elizabeth Stortroen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

As they gather around a large conference table in a room with rectangular windows facing the state Capitol, a group of women meets over lunch every other Wednesday to discuss political strategies for legislation affecting women in Colorado.

They are members of the Women’s Lobby of Colorado, a coalition of advocacy organizations established in 1993 to promote a broad range of women’s issues through lobbying at the state Capitol.

“It is important to have a voice within the state Capitol on behalf of the average woman,” said Chaer Robert, co-chair of the issues committee for the Women’s Lobby. “To be able to have someone under the Dome who is looking at legislation from the point of view of ‘How does this affect women?’ is important.”

The mission of the Women’s Lobby is to provide better opportunities for women in Colorado by ensuring that public policies reflect gender equity and justice. The group uses two contract lobbyists, Jennifer Miles and Pat Steadman, who maintain a daily presence at the Capitol when the Legislature is in session.

“We are an all-volunteer-based organization,” Robert said. “Through our organization, we welcome smaller organizations interested in women’s issues to join us so we can, in a way, pool our money together and keep the needs of women front and center in the state’s policy decisions.”

Over the years, the Women’s Lobby has helped pass a number of bills, including legislation to fund HPV vaccines to prevent cervical cancer in 2007 and the Wage Transparency Act of 2008, which eliminated employer prohibitions on discussion of wages among employees.

During casual, open-to-the-public meetings, women from the different member organizations of the Women’s Lobby discuss upcoming legislation and decide which bills to monitor.

Miles, who has lobbied for the group for more than a year, said she thinks advocacy for women’s issues is
essential.

“I think the Women’s Lobby gives a voice to a lot of smaller women’s voices and organizations who don’t have a lot of resources to make a difference,” Miles said. “Women are important to society, and their voices should be heard and considered.”

Members of the group select three bills each session for special attention from its lobbyists and sign on as supporters of other legislation that coincides with their priorities and passions.

So far this session, the Women’s Lobby is lobbying in favor of House Bill 1057, parental involvement in K-12 education; and House Bill 1210, required paid sick leave.

Miles said HB 1057 is moving forward into the Senate now. HB 1210 was killed in committee this week.

Robert said it’s normal for the bills they support to be killed.

“It is much easier to kill a bill than to convince people to try something new,” she said.

Even so, Robert said the Women’s Lobby is pleased with the bills that do pass, even if they’re whittled down in hearings and committee meetings.

“You have to think of each bill like a loaf of bread,” Robert said. “If, at the end of all the debates and votes, we are left with two slices of bread from that original loaf, it is still enough to make a sandwich. And we see this as an accomplishment in improving circumstances for all women in Colorado.”

Beth@coloradostatesman.com