HomeLearning CenterWomen wield power in the Florida Legislature. Why that matters

Women wield power in the Florida Legislature. Why that matters

Originally published by Christie Zizo for Click Orlando.com

Kathleen Passidomo wanted to change the law.

The Collier County lawyer was working on a task force regarding foreclosures in 2010 and said she realized Florida’s foreclosure laws were, in her words, archaic.

“They were unworkable, they didn’t protect borrowers or lenders,” Passidomo said. “We were trying to get people to stay in their homes, but that wasn’t working because if you didn’t have any income to stay in your home, how do you work it out with lenders? We had robo-signing, it was just a disaster.”

So Passidomo figured she’d run for the state legislature and fix the laws. Getting elected was the easy part. The Republican didn’t draw a challenger. It took three legislative sessions – three years – to get the laws changed.

Passidomo is now closing out her term as Florida Senate president, only the third woman in Florida’s history to hold the job.

Passidomo is one example of the growing power of women in government, especially at the state level. In Florida, 25% of seats in the State House and State Senate were held by women in 2016, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2023, that number was 41.3% — the highest among the southeastern states.

There are 16 women in the 40-person Florida Senate, nine Republicans and seven Democrats. There are 50 women in the 120-person Florida House, 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

Nationally, women made up nearly 33% of state legislators in 2023, up from 24.4% in 2016. That’s the highest percentage in the country’s history.

In terms of U.S. political history, the election of 1992 is referred to as the “Year of the Woman” because of a wave of women politicians winning office, particularly in the U.S. Senate but up and down the ballot too.

The 2018 election, however, saw a new and bigger wave of women moving into politics at al levels of government. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the percentage of women in state legislatures jumped from 25.4% in 2018 to 28.9% in 2019, then jumped again to 31.1% in 2021.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, rode that 2018 wave into office and flipped a Florida House seat in the process, one of many women who were frustrated by the election of President Donald Trump.

“I just felt that in general politics was not representing people like me,” Eskamani said. “And so that was also one of my reasons why I ran for office and I really want to champion issues that impact women and girls, and be a role model for other women to see themselves in public office.”

Eskamani says it’s not just about the issues women champion. She says women also legislate differently, and that can lead to changes to bills in positive ways. She says they tend to be more collaborative, and more willing to work across the aisle.

They also add a diverse perspective.

“I served on a subcommittee that focused on, among many issues, veterans issues, and I was one of two women in that committee… and there was a Republican woman as well,” Eskamani said. “She and I would often be the only ones asking questions about what does this mean for women in the military? ‘Do you have lactation rooms, you know, on the bases?’ It gave us an opportunity to kind of ask questions for our women veterans that my male counterparts — it wasn’t that they didn’t care. They just never had to think about it. It just never came up in their lives.”

Passidomo said the Boys Club world of the legislature is changing, and women are not just focusing on women’s issues.

“You would think typically women would be more interested in family-oriented legislation, things dealing with protection of our kids and the like, but that’s not really the case in our legislature. I think if it crosses all boundary lines, I have several my female colleagues are doing bills that would help the business law section of the Florida Bar,” Passidomo said.

According to a September poll by the Pew Research Center, 53% of adults think there are still too few women in office.

Studies show persistent perceptions about women are part of the problem – the Pew report shows 54% of Americans see a belief that women have to do more to prove themselves than men as the top obstacle to political office.

Americans were also more likely to say that a woman’s chances of getting into office were hurt if they were assertive (29%), showed emotions (58%) or unmarried (42%).

Funding and support are also big obstacles.

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