Coalition demands FL hearings on Equal Rights Amendment

Florida Sen. Linda Stewart speaks at a rally of ERA advocates at Orlando City Hall. The coalition, including Rep. Geraldine Thompson (green suit) and Rep. Anna Eskamani (red dress) demands that the 2020 Legislature ratify the ERA. Photo by Emily Wray.

Legislation to guarantee women the same rights as men has stalled in certain lawmaking bodies around the nation.

Since 1972.

That includes Florida, which has the opportunity to be the state that tips the balance toward adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution.

On Friday, two dozen elected officials and community activists from around the state gathered at Orlando City Hall to demand that the 2020 Florida Legislature give ERA legislation a long-awaited hearing.

The Florida Phoenix earlier wrote that the issue has died from neglect in past legislative sessions but continues to have support, with some female Republican lawmakers siding with Democrats on the issue.

In a press conference streamed online, the group called for support of the ERA, which was presented to states for approval in 1972. Thirty-eight states must ratify before Congressional proceedings can begin to enshrine the amendment in the Constitution. Thirty-seven have done so.

Meanwhile, statutes that protect women’s rights are only as strong as lawmaking bodies do or do not allow them to be. Also, the Phoenix has reported the ERA faces technical obstacles in Congress, including expiration of the deadline to ratify it. Federal legislation to abolish the deadline has been introduced.

Nicolette Springer, with the Orlando chapter of National Organization for Women, read the amendment aloud: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” She and others challenged how lawmakers could still object to such language.

“It is time that we build a nation where my daughters and every girl and young woman can grow up knowing that equal is equal because our U.S. Constitution will include these powerful words,” Springer said.

Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, told the group and the online audience  that women in Florida are still paid 15 cents less per dollar than their male counterparts. The annual wage gap compared with male counterparts, she said, ranges from $5,500 less for white women to $20,000 less for African-American women and Latinas. Obviously, she said, laws in place now are not working.

“From those figures alone, you can see that we are not equal, and it’s a shame that we have to fight for equality, when it’s in black and white that we are not being treated equally. This should not be a difficult situation,” Stewart said.

She said men and women supporting equal pay, protection from sexual harassment and domestic violence and other issues of rights for women will push House and Senate leaders to schedule the legislation for hearings in winter 2020.

“We’re going to come up there in large numbers to continue this fight,” she said.

Also sponsoring workplace-protection legislation in the House is Democratic Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who represents part of Orange County.

“We are not there yet in terms of making sure women are treated equally. We have not broken the glass ceiling,” Thompson said.

Also calling for hearings in 2020 on the ERA. and other women’s rights legislation at the rally in Orlando were State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat; Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan; Florida NOW President Kim Porteous; Cynthia Harris, the Greater Orlando NOW legislative director and chair of the racial justice task force; and Yesica Ramirez, speaking for the Farmworker Association of Florida.