Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
– Equal Rights Amendment
by Pamela Powers Hannley
There is an ideological perfect storm brewing in the Arizona Legislature. A memorandum supporting extension of the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been assigned to a committee where five out of seven members have pledged to protect and fight for the rights of fetuses over the rights of women.
Not content with winning the right to vote in 1920, women’s rights advocates proposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) 91 years ago. The ERA was introduced during every Congressional session between 1923 and 1972 and finally passed nearly 70 years after it was originally proposed. In the 1970s, there was a ground war at the state level to get 38 state legislatures to ratify the ERA in order for it to become a Constitutional Amendment. The ERA fell 3 states short of ratification; Arizona is one of a handful of states that never ratified the ERA.
Fast forward to 2013, the ground war for women’s equality has resumed at the state level with ERA ratification proposals six states– Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Virginia, and now … Arizona.; Nevada and North Carolina plan to hear it in 2014. LD9 Rep. Victoria Steele has introduced HCM2006, a memorandum from the State of Arizona asking the federal government to extend the deadline for ratification of the ERA, and HCR2016, a fill to ratify the ERA.
In addition to Steele, the ERA memorandum has 18 co-sponsors– including two Republican women, Kelly Townsend (LD14) and Karen Fann (LD1). Below is the complete list. Although Southern Arizona is well-represented on this list with Steele, Wheeler, Gabaldon, Saldate, and Pencrazi, where are the rest of the Democrats and the “moderate” Repulbican? (Should I name names, or can you figure out who’s missing here? If you live in LD9, LD10, LD2, or LD3, you might want to ask your representatives and senators why their names are missing from this list.)
Why Do We Need the ERA?
Back in the 1970s, many people told us that we didn’t need the ERA because American women were obviously equal to men. Well, obviously, when you look at chronic pay inequality and persistent poverty, women are not treated equally in the US.
The economy is repeatedly cited as the most important issue to women. Economic inequality is at the crux of the problem. More women work part time. More women work at low-wage jobs. More women live in poverty. Single moms and their children are more likely to receive government assistance.
Politifact recently examined the issue of gender pay disparity and concluded that, outside of other contributing factors such as career choice or full versus part time status, 40% of wage disparity is due directly to gender discrimination and cannot be attached to other external factors. It is also true that while 72% of Americans believe The Constitutional Equal Rights Amendment is already law (it is not), 97% of Americans believe it should be.
Will Arizona Republicans Allow the ERA to Advance?
Although the ERA has broad support among citizens, HCM2006 faces an uphill battle the Arizona Legislature. It has been assigned to the Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee, but it is unclear if the chair will allow it to be heard. (Any piece of legislation can be killed in committee– by not hearing it or by voting it down.)
The Republicans on this committee are a very conservative group: Chair Justin Olson,Vice Chair Steve Smith, David M. Gowan Sr., Debbie Lesko, and Carl Seel all have received a 0% approval rating from NARAL/Arizona Right to Choose and high marks from the Goldwater Institute, a right-wing, small government think tank. In contrast, all three Democrats on the committee– Bruce Wheeler, Lupe Chavira Contreras, andJonathan Larkin — have received 100% approval rating from NARAL/Arizona Right to Choose and low marks from the Goldwater Institute. Contreras could soon loose his positive rating from NARAL because he recently signed the Arizona Center for Policy’sfetal personhood procolamation; in fact, all of the Republicans on the Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility have signed the fetal personhood proclamation. (Click on their names in this paragraph to see their Project Vote Smart Summaries.)
Contact Committee Members
If you believe that American women should have equal rights and equal pay, start making some phone calls. If you don’t see your legislators’ names on the sponsorship list, call them. Committee Chair Justin Olson and other members of the committee hear from you– particularly if you live their districts. Ask committee members when it will be heard and encourage them to let it out of committee. Here are the members of the Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee. Click on their names to get their Legislative pages and their contact information.
Lupe Chavira Contreras (D- LD19)
David M. Gowan Sr. (R- LD14 and Republican House Majority Leader)
Jonathan Larkin (D- LD30)
Debbie Lesko (R- 21)
Justin Olson (R- 25, Committee Chair)
Carl Seel (R- 20)
Steve Smith (R- 11, Vice Chair)
Bruce Wheeler (D- LD10 and Minority Whip)
You Have the Power
This is an election year. Arizona’s entire state government– Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Public Instruction, Attorney General and the whole Arizona Legislature– plus Arizona’s Congressional representatives will be voted on in November 2014. Congressional representatives and State Legislators, alike, have skin in the ERA ratification game. To pass the ERA, Congress must vote to extend the deadline, and three state legislatures must vote to ratify it. I applaud Rep. Steele for having the guts and conviction to bring the ERA forward.
Ask every candidate: Do you stand for equal rights for women? Do you believe women should receive equal pay for equal work? If they say "no" to either one or both of these questions or if they dodge, ask them to explain their support for continued sex and wage discrimination.
UPDATE, Feb 18: Justin Olson, Chair of the Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee, told Rep. Victoria Steele that the committee would not hear HCM2006– thus killing the bill without allowing it to be heard by the full Legislature.