After more than 40 years of service to the state, it’s the last week for Minnesota’s Legislative Office on the Economic Status of Women.
In the last few days of the legislative session, state lawmakers voted to eliminate all OESW funding and prohibit staffing for the office. Barbara Battiste has headed up that office for the past four years. As with her predecessors, her job has been to serve as a voice for women in Minnesota – holding listening sessions around the state, and monitoring every bill introduced at the State Capitol.
“And providing factual information to legislators on whether legislation is going to harm or help women economically,” Battiste said. “But also it’s this liaison to people in the community, saying, ‘Here’s what’s happening at the Legislature you should know about.’”
Politics behind shutdown
Total funding for the OESW is $120,000 dollars a year, so Battiste said she feels the motive for shutting it down was politics, not cost-savings. She said there have been many efforts to curtail or end funding for the office by conservative lawmakers since the 1980s.
Battiste said she was blindsided by the vote to close the office down, adding that if she takes up a cause after this job ends, it will be to promote greater transparency in Minnesota state government.
“So, there’s no accountability – you have no idea who was for a bill, who was against a bill,” she said. “And then behind closed doors, the chair of the committee – and who knows with whom, presumably legislative leaders – would decide what would be in the omnibus bill.”
She’s also concerned about future job and pay prospects for women. A report by the state found Minnesota women are paid on average about $42,000 a year, while the pay for men is nearly $52,000.