ERA isn’t nostalgia in Nevada

CARSON CITY — Mention the Equal Rights Amendment today and it might bring back memories of the 1970s, from huge protest marches to ”ERA Yes” buttons.

But the proposed constitutional amendment, which fell three states short of the 38 needed to win ratification by a 1979 deadline that Congress later extended to 1982, is not a relic in Nevada.

An effort is underway to get the amendment ratified by the Nevada Legislature in 2015.

The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections has requested the drafting of a Senate Joint Resolution to ratify the amendment in the upcoming session. Ratification requires a simple majority vote of both the House and Senate.

Committee Chairwoman Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said recent assaults on basic rights suggest the struggle for gender equality is not over. One example is equal pay, she said.

“Why should I earn 75 cents less an hour when you and I are hired by the same company and are doing the same job side by side,” she asked. “There is no justification, but the equal pay bill has been hung up for a long time.

“You should not have to codify what is just,” Spearman said. “It should be automatic. But sometimes it’s not.”

Spearman said she believes most Nevadans will support ratification of the amendment.

“It’s time for us to say unequivocally that equal rights are just equal rights,” she said. “There is no caveat. There is no asterisk. There is no exception.”

Washoe County resident Janette Dean backs the effort, saying the new push is occurring largely because more women are serving in political office at all levels.

“This is something women have wanted to pass for decades,” she said. “We’re not going to give up until we’re done. The amendment protects men as well as women against discrimination.”

The amendment is brief:

Section 1 says “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Section 2 says: “The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

Section 3 says: “This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

But Elko resident Janine Hansen, state president of Nevada Eagle Forum, called it a failed proposal that would put federal judges and a federal bureaucracy in charge of all gender-based issues, from child custody and marriage to athletics and insurance rates.

“It would be a huge move toward the loss of state sovereignty and the right of the people to determine the kinds of laws they want,” she said.

Hansen, who got her start in political activism in the 1970s fighting passage of the ERA, said the amendment’s supporters should move on.

“This is not going to help women,” she said. “This is not going to help families. It is not going to help individual liberties.”

The Nevada Legislature rejected the amendment in three sessions, from 1973 to 1977, Hansen said. It passed the Assembly in 1973 and 1975 but failed in the Senate. In 1977, it passed the Senate 11-10 when Lt. Gov. Bob Rose cast the deciding vote, but it died in the Assembly.

Nevada voters rejected it by a 2-to-1 margin in 1978.

Key to ratification is removal of the original deadline imposed by Congress. Two measures pending in Congress would do just that.

Ratification efforts are underway in other states, including Illinois, where it passed the state Senate in May. But longtime STOP ERA advocate Phyllis Schlafly is involved in the effort there, and a vote in the Illinois House is not expected until after the November election.

Dean said supporters in Utah, Arizona and Virginia are seeking ratification.

Even if those efforts succeed, five of the 35 states that ratified the amendment rescinded those votes before the 1979 deadline.

Dean said there is no precedent for rescinding a ratification, and she questioned whether those votes will stand.

“It’s a hot-button issue,” Dean said. “We’re going to keep on it until it is passed.”

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.