When the First Regular Session of the 101st General Assembly of the State of Missouri convened on Jan. 6, nearly one-third of the 34 desks in the Senate chamber were occupied by women. The 2021 Missouri Senate is likely to be the most diverse in the state’s history, with 11 female senators among the ranks.
“The number of Senate seats held by women has steadily increased over the years, but this year is the high water mark so far,” said Adriane Crouse, secretary of the Senate. “It’s been nearly 50 years since the first woman was elected to the Missouri Senate, but the numbers have been growing ever since. We started the 100th General Assembly with nine women in the Senate, so we’ve seen 20% growth in just two years.”
The first woman ever elected to the Missouri Senate was Mary Luann Gant-Newquist, a three-term member of the House of Representatives who represented Missouri’s 9th Senatorial District from 1973 through 1980. In 1977, Gant-Newquist was joined in the chamber by Harriet Woods, Missouri’s second female senator and a future lieutenant governor of the state.
Missouri voters elected five new female senators in November 2020, including three who replace men who previously represented their respective districts.
“The rising representation of women in the Missouri Senate is a reflection of increased involvement of women in all areas of the workforce and public policy,” said Sen. Jill Schupp, who was first elected to the Missouri Senate in 2014 after serving six years in the House of Representatives. “Women make up half the population, so it makes sense that we should have an equal role when legislation is being considered. We haven’t reached 50% participation yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Regardless of their gender, the members of the Missouri Senate face a full workload in 2021. More than 350 bills and resolutions were pre-filed in anticipation of the upcoming session, which will conclude on May 14. Senators have until March 1 to introduce legislation, though many bills were presented before members took the oath of office on opening day. A full list of legislation before the Senate can be found at www.senate.mo.gov.
Among the legislation proposed this year are a number of measures that failed to cross the finish line in 2020, when legislative activity was interrupted by COVID-19. Concerns over the pandemic kept legislators away from the Capitol for more than a month, leaving little time to pass bills once the session resumed in late April. Two subsequent extraordinary sessions brought the General Assembly back into session to pass anti-crime legislation and address budget issues related to COVID-19.
To reduce the spread of the virus this year, public seating will be limited in committee hearing rooms and in the Senate visitor’s gallery. To ensure the public continues to have access to Senate proceedings, audio of committee hearings will be streamed online, just as proceedings inside the Senate chamber have been broadcast in the past.