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Nevada Legislature on cusp of historic vote on Equal Rights Amendment

Updated March 18, 2017 - 8:44 pm

CARSON CITY — History is about to be made in Nevada as votes ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are expected this week in the Legislature.

A vote in the full Assembly is scheduled for Monday, and following a second procedural vote in the Senate later in the week, a state will have ratified the ERA for the first time in four decades and 45 years after action in Congress started the process on March 22, 1972.

But it remains to be seen whether Nevada’s approval will become the catalyst for ERA adoption in other states — and a potentially epic moment in U.S. history — or merely an answer to a trivia question on “Jeopardy.”

Nevada would be the 36th state to ratify the amendment, although some states that previously ratified later rescinded that action. Two more states must approve ratification for Congress to consider enacting the proposal.

Opponents argue that the date for ratification expired in 1982 and Nevada is taking action that is symbolic only.

But Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said that decision is for Congress to make. And as far as she is concerned, the fight for equality never expires.

“People are too quick to be dismissive here of what we are doing with the ERA,” Spearman said. “What Nevada will do is lead the way, and the other two states will come quickly. It is never too late to bring equality to all. Never.

“As far as I am concerned, the effort to get the ERA passed in Nevada is a just and righteous cause,” she said.

But Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said passing the amendment now will make Nevada a laughingstock around the country. Equal rights issues have been addressed for decades in state law, he said at a recent hearing on the issue.

“This hasn’t been an issue since 1982,” Hansen said. “We’re resurrecting something that died 35 years ago.”

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.”

ERA IN NEVADA

The ERA has had a tortuous and frustrating history in Nevada, at least for its supporters.

The Nevada Legislature rejected the amendment in three sessions from 1973 to 1977. The measure 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.

Later efforts, including a resolution heard but not voted on in 2015, also failed.

Equal Rights Amendment (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

ABORTION FIGHT

Opponents cite a litany of concerns: that it will make abortion more accessible; that women will have to participate in the draft; that Social Security benefits for widows will be diminished; that the deadline for ratification expired in 1982.

Elko resident Janine Hansen, who fought ERA ratification in the Nevada Legislature in the 1970s, has called it a failed proposal that would put federal judges and a federal bureaucracy in charge of all gender-based issues.

Melissa Clement, representing Nevada Right to Life, said most of the objectives of the ERA movement have been accomplished. The real goal is to provide unfettered access to abortion, she said.

Kevin Powers, an attorney with the Legislature, said the question of ratification of the ERA is exclusively up to Congress should 38 states approve the language.

Powers said that a woman’s right to abortion is protected by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA is not directed specifically at abortion, and the effect would be marginal, he said.

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

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