Demise of TN Economic Council on Women lamented

The executive director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, which will cease to exist on June 30 because a Senate committee refused to renew it, laments the demise in an interview with The Tennessean.

“Nobody else is doing what we are doing because we are looking at issues that impact women from an economic point of view so they can enact legislation based on this research,” Phyllis Qualls-Brooks… told The Tennessean this week.

“We’re talking about 3.3 million women in the state of Tennessee. Fifty-one percent of the population — we were that voice from a state level just like the Department of Education,” she said. “That voice no longer exists; I think women will be disappointed.”

…”We worked to provide information that would help, from survivors of sexual assault, sex traffic or domestic violence to women who just lost their way to not be wards of the state but be taxpaying citizens,” she said. “That’s our challenge — that they get the right information so that they can do that.”

Note: A post on the Senate Government Operations Committee meeting on this blog back late March seems to have vanished. It’s resurrected below.

(Recreated post (appeared in News Sentinel, HERE)
The Tennessee Economic Council on Women, established in 1998 to study and advocate for women’s equality with men on financial matters, will apparently cease to exist on July 1 after a bill to keep it alive fell one vote short of approval in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

The state’s “sunset law” requires all government agencies to be periodically renewed; otherwise they “sunset” and are terminated. A bill to continue the council, which will sunset July 1 without renewal, passed the House 93-1 last year, but was blocked last year in the Senate with Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, as a leading critic.

Legislative rules require that Bell, as chairman of the Government Operations Committee, sponsor all sunset bills. Thus, Bell was sponsoring a bill he opposed.

When the bill came up for reconsideration at a March meeting of the committee this year, Bell invited the council’s executive director, Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, and others to step forward and defend the agency, which is budgeted to spend $232,000 per year in state funds.

They did, contending the organization works with multiple other state agencies and private groups to provide data on the economic status of women — “the social glue” that keeps our society functioning, said Qualls-Brooks — and to promote ways to improve that status to the benefit of women, their children and the state as a whole.

But Bell questioned why the state should be funding such an organization over advocacy groups for other constituencies, especially when women’s financial status appears to be rising. He cited statistics indicating that 56.4 percent of those now enrolled in college are women as an indication the panel has outlived its usefulness.

“I don’t see the state creating a council to look at why that’s happening,” Bell said of the disproportionate number of women in college. “There are any number of groups out there who, I think it could be argued, where we ought to have an economic council … a male economic council, a Hispanic economic council, an African-American economic council. … Each one could make an argument for their own special group.”

The committee vote on the bill to extend the council’s existence was 4-2 with two abstentions. Bell was one of those who abstained. The bill needed five positive votes to get out of the committee, thus it fell one vote short.

In theory, the measure could be brought back for another try. But given the committee chairman’s stated opposition, despite his avoidance of an actual negative vote, and the general push for adjournment of the legislative session within the next three weeks, that would appear highly unlikely.