Women won right to vote in 1920 but still fighting in 2020 to get ERA heard in FL Capitol

At the 2019 Women's March in Tallahassee, marchers from around the state called for passage of the ERA, equal pay for equal work, and support for planned parenthood. Photo: Colin Hackley

As the nation commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment – granting women the right to vote –conservative leaders of the Florida Legislature still have not scheduled a single hearing this session on the long-fought Equal Rights Amendment that would guarantee gender equality.

Bipartisan, bicameral groups led by female state legislators will celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage in an event Wednesday morning, followed by a press conference calling for legislative leaders to allow the ERA to be debated in committee. Midway through the legislative session, no hearings have been held and none are scheduled.

This month also marks the opening of a women’s suffrage exhibit in the Historic Florida Capitol called “Rightfully Hers.”

Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Democrat from Palm Beach County, will host “Keep Roaring On: 1920 – 2020,” an event Wednesday on the 22nd floor of the Capitol to celebrate the centennial and pay homage to outstanding achievements by women in Florida.

In honor of one of those women, Slosberg is expected to issue the inaugural Edna Giles Fuller Award, named for Florida’s first woman legislator, who was elected in 1929 to represent Orange County. The Florida Historical Society says Fuller fought for women’s rights to vote and to serve on juries, and she advocated women’s involvement in war efforts during World War II.

Scheduled to join Slosberg are Democratic senators Lori Berman of Palm Beach County and Lauren Book of Broward – whose family contributed many historical items to the “Rightfully Hers” exhibit – Democratic Reps. Fentrice Driskell of Hillsborough and Dotie Joseph of Miami-Dade, and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried, as well as Republican Reps. Jackie Toledo of Hillsborough and Heather Fitzenhagen of Lee County.

Also in Tallahassee Wednesday, ERA proponents from both political parties will call on Florida lawmakers to take up House Concurrent Resolution 239 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 392, ratifying the ERA in Florida and guaranteeing equal rights for men and women.

Through Monday, the resolution has not been discussed in any of the House or Senate committees to which it was referred. The committee chairmen who have not scheduled it for hearings, thus blocking it from advancing, are Senate Judiciary Chair David Simmons, Republican from Volusia and Seminole counties, and House Civil Justice Subcommittee Chair Bob Rommel, a Republican from Collier County.

The concurrent resolution is sponsored in the Senate by Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and a bipartisan group of six other senators, three of them men. The cosponsors are Sen. Berman, fellow Democrats Janet Cruz of Hillsborough, Linda Stewart of Orange County, Gary Farmer of Broward County, and Kevin Rader of Broward and Palm Beach counties, and Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican.

It is sponsored in the House by Reps. Driskell and Joseph and cosponsored by 19 other representatives, including two Republican woman, eight Democratic men, and nine Democratic women. The cosponsors are Republican Melony Bell, representing DeSoto, Hardee and Polk counties, Republican Amber Mariano, of Pasco County, and Democrats Ramon Alexander of Gadsden and Leon counties, Loranne Ausley of Leon, Kamia Brown of Orange, Ben Diamond of Pinellas, Nicholas Duran of Miami-Dade, Anna Eskamani of Orange, Joy Goff-Marcil of Orange and Seminole, Margaret Good of Sarasota County, Mike Grieco of Miami-Dade, Adam Roger Hattersley of Hillsborough, Amy Mercado of Orange, Cindy Polo of Broward and Miami-Dade, Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orange, Richard Stark of Broward, Susan Valdés of Hillsborough, Clovis Watson Jr. of Alachua and Marion, and Jennifer Necole Webb of Pinellas.

Nationally, the ERA was approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. The ERA was meant to guarantee that equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. And it has surged into the public spotlight after decades of neglect.

After Democrats flipped both legislative chambers in Virginia last fall, lawmakers there voted in January to ratify the ERA, giving the amendment the 38-state majority it needs for adoption into the U.S. Constitution. However, Virginia’s ratification may not be counted because of various legal challenges.

ERA proponents in Florida want the Sunshine State to become the next state to ratify it.