Activists call on Florida Legislature for equal rights

The Equal Rights Amendment

Women’s rights activists in five Florida cities on Monday called on state lawmakers to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the upcoming 2020 legislative session. If added to the U.S. Constitution, the ERA would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender.

The measure was originally approved by Congress in 1972, but needed three-fourths of the states – 38 – for ratification. For decades, the number of states was stuck at 35.

But there’s been renewed energy in recent years to pass the ERA, and that’s what the Nevada Legislature did in 2017, followed by Illinois last year. That means only one other state needs to approve it.

The 2020 proposal is being sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville in the Senate, and Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat from Miami,  in the House.

“We want true equality guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” said Barbara DeVane, vice president for the Tallahassee chapter of the National Organization for Women, speaking in front of Governor Ron DeSantis’ office in the Capitol.

“You’re either for discrimination against women, or you’re against it. So, which side are you on?” DeVane asked.

When asked if it the ERA was still necessary in 2019, DeVane cited comments made by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who said in a 2011 magazine interview that “if society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex – Hey, we have things called legislatures.”

Critics say that even if Florida or another state were to pass the ERA in their state legislature, the measure still couldn’t be implemented because Congress in the 1970s set a 1982 deadline to ratify the amendment.

That’s why members of the Florida congressional delegation need to co-sponsor a joint resolution that would repeal that deadline, says Linda Miklowitz, who represents the National Council of Jewish Women. “We only need one more state to ratify, and we want it to be our state. The state of Florida,” she said.

Advocates say the ERA is also needed to strengthen Congress’ hand at addressing the pay gap between men and women.

Tallahassee City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox cited the statistic that while women make only 77 percent of what men do for equal work, the disparity is much worse for black and brown women. “It’s 61 percent (for blacks), and even worse for our Hispanic sisters. Fifty-three percent. Now where is the fairness and equality in that?”

(A Pew Research Center analysis in 2018 found that women earned 85 percent of what men earned).

The activists held their five news conferences in front of the offices of the most important Republican men in the Legislature that they’ll need to be able to persuade to get the measure passed.

In addition to the state Capitol, they also held news conferences in front of the local district offices of Senate President Bill Galvano in Bradenton and House Speaker Jose Oliva in Miami.

And they also met in front of the district offices of two other GOP lawmakers who will have a major say in whether the bill advances in either chamber: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman David Simmons’ office in Longwood and Chair of the Civil Justice Subcommittee, Bob Rommel, in Naples.

The event took place on Women’s Equality Day, celebrated each August 26 to commemorate the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits the states and the federal government denying the right to vote to citizens of the U.S. on the basis of sex.

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