Debate rages on whether Nevada should pass Equal Rights Amendment

CARSON CITY — Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment failed three times in the Nevada Legislature in the 1970s, but the measure has been resurrected and was heard Monday in a Senate committee.

State Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, argued that the amendment to the U.S. Constitution is needed now more than ever.

“The continued debate to ratify the ERA baffles the mind,” Spearman said.

The amendment, which was never ratified by enough states to become part of the U.S. Constitution, would ensure equal rights for men and women including equality in the workplace and a tool to fight sex discrimination, she said.

The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections hearing was filled to capacity, primarily with men and women in support of ratification.

But not everyone at the hearing was a supporter.

Elko resident and citizen lobbyist Janine Hansen, who testified against the ERA during the legislative debates in the 1970s, reiterated her opposition at the hearing and said the law is clear that the deadline to act has long passed.

“This would be a disaster for millions of wives, widows, mothers and grandmothers who receive Social Security benefits,” said Hansen, the state president of Nevada Families for Freedom.

Lynn Chapman, vice president of Nevada Families for Freedom, also testified in opposition.

But many speakers said the time has come to join 35 other states that ratified the amendment years ago.

Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states, setting a seven-year time limit, which was later extended until 1982.

It was ratified by 35 states – three short of those needed. But supporters of the renewed effort point to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said Congress may determine whether an amendment is valid, even after the deadline.

Nancy Cannon Downey, a Minden resident and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon, D-Nev., said, “I believe it is time to bring our state into the 21st century and show its support for Nevada women and the ERA.”

Downey asked the Senate panel to pass SJR2 “for the sake of my daughter and granddaughter, and all the American daughters in future generations … ”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., submitted a letter in support of passage, arguing that while symbolic, “ratification sends an important message that we in Nevada believe women should be treated fairly and equally.”

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, testified in support, asking why the issue is still being debated. He vowed to get the amendment passed.

It would take a simple majority vote by both houses of the Legislature to approve the amendment. The hearing went on for three hours Monday, but the committee did not take a vote.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.