The Fight for Gender-Neutral Language
Dear Committee members:
On Aug. 10, 1998, Bob St. John (an attorney at the Rodey firm), was the co-chair of the Committee on the Women and the Legal Profession. He sent a letter to Paula Tackett of the Legislative Council Services asking whether they monitored the "use of gender neutral language in matters brought to the Council" whether they had "formal policies and procedures.” The response from the Legislative Council Services stated that the "use of a word of one gender includes corresponding word of the other gender.” Furthermore, they "encourage gender neutral drafting whenever possible, if it is not awkward or confusing,” although they noted that “[a]s a matter of practice, drafters at the LCS continue to use he, not she, to include both genders.” Needless to say, this letter was the catalyst for the Committee to seek legislation formally requiring that all legislation use gender neutral language.
Here's the legislative history of gender neutral legislation:
2005 - The first gender neutral legislation was introduced in 2005 (SB 1059) by Sen. Diane Snyder. It never made it out of the Senate.
2006 -Sen. Snyder introduced Senate Memorial 39 that "request[ed] the New Mexico Legislative Council and state agencies to begin the process of converting the state statutes, rules and other documents into gender-neutral language.” Senate Memorial 39 passed 32-0 but SB 324 (which would have made gender neutrality law) failed to make it out of committee that year.
2009 - Sen. Gail Chasey introduced HB 198. It passed by a vote of 51-13 in the House but died in the Senate Rules Committee.
2011 - Rep. Chasey introduced HB 292 and Sen. William Payne introduced a companion bill, SB 407. HB 292 passed the House on a vote of 61-5, but SB 407 died on the Senate floor.
2013- Sen. John Sapien introduced SB 232. It passed the Senate Rules Committee (7-0), Judiciary Committee (7-0), and the Senate unanimously (36-0). It then passed the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs (10-0) and passed the House unanimously (62-0) with Rep. Gail Chasey moving the bill to a vote just before the session ended at noon on March 16.
In addition, Committee members have met with countless individuals/organizations/legislators over the years to help advocate for gender neutral language. This item has been on the Committee's agenda for more than 10 years. and although I am ecstatic that the legislation is finally going to become law, it is bittersweet to let go of a cause that has been such a huge part of this committee.