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Equal Rights Activists Urge Florida Lawmakers To Ratify ERA

Activists hold signs supporting ERA
Cathy Carter
ERA supporters gathered Monday outside the Bradenton office of Senate President Bill Galvano.

Thirty-seven states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment -- one short of the required three-quarters for passage.   

On Monday, ERA advocates urged state lawmakers to secure Florida as the final state to preserve gender equality in the Constitution.

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” the amendment reads.

The ERA has the support of Florida Democrats and now its backers are working on persuading Republicans like Senate President Bill Galvano. That's why they gathered Monday at his home office in Bradenton.

Gail Johnson is President of the Pinellas Chapter of the National Organization for Women. She thinks Florida could become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

"I think that we have as much opportunity here as we do in other states,” she said. “We need to get that message to our GOP leaders, that it's really not a partisan issue."

But first, advocates will need to convince lawmakers.  An ERA ratification bill has been introduced in the Florida legislature every year since 2003. It's died in the committee process each time.

“That’s why we’re in front of Senator Galvano’s office,” said Johnson. “He’s the Senate President and he has the power to actually move it out of committee and get it on the agenda.”

Florida NOW held events in four other locations around Florida, including the State Capital in Tallahassee and the local office of Florida House speaker, Jose R. Oliva R- Hialeah.

“We can agree to disagree on other things, but let’s agree on this,” said Johnson of ERA ratification. “Women are tired of the wage gap and discrimination at work.”

The Equal Rights Amendment passed at the federal level in 1972. Thirty-five states approved the amendments in the 1970s and 80s. Nevada was the 36th state to pass a resolution in 2017 and Illinois did the same the following year.

Opponents of the amendment say it would enshrine numerous things, including abortion, in the Constitution. Supporters say women already have that right under Roe V. Wade, which is not related to the ERA. 

Aside from Florida, 12 other states have not ratified the amendment: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. 

Amy Weintraub is with the advocacy group, Progress Florida, one of the organizations that rallied outside of Galvano’s office. She acknowledged that ratification in Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature will be an uphill battle, but remains optimistic.

“I just think it’s time,” she said. “Women deserve it and we’re ready for it. For progressives it would be one of the few times in recent memory that we could say, 'oh my gosh', I am so thrilled with what the legislature has done, they have our backs as Floridians. They care about us and they are taking a stand.”

While the fight plays out in the states, some Republicans and Democrats in Congress are backing legislation that would pave the way for ERA ratification whenever the 38th state signs on. Congress would likely have to act because it originally gave states seven years to reach that threshold. A 1982 extension has also since come and gone.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) introduced a resolution last month that would eliminate the deadline and count the states that have ratified the ERA since the early 1980s toward the magic number of 38. U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Maryland) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are chief sponsors of a similar resolution in the Senate.

“As soon as we get that 38th state ratified, our total focus as a movement will be shifting to D.C to make sure Congress does its job,” said Weintraub.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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