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Republicans in the Legislature are blocking a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment

Posted at 8:07 PM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 06:51:46-05

PHOENIX, AZ — Time is running out for Arizona supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment. Their hope is for Arizona to be the 38th state to ratify it, which would make it a constitutional amendment.

That path to history began in our state when Sandra Day, the first woman majority leader in state government in the United States, wrote the resolution for Arizona to adopt the ERA in the early 1970s.

Sandra Day would become Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Back then, O'Connor said the ERA “stands in the tradition of other great amendments to the Constitution.” But religious pressure and secular arguments, contending the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't necessary, ultimately killed the bill.

When Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment last year, Arizona thought it was time. Every day, volunteers supporting the ERA come to the capitol to lobby lawmakers and strike up a conversation with anyone willing to listen.

Anissa Rasheta of Mormons for the ERA is one of those volunteers.

"It seems very simple," she says, "if you read just the sentence, it shouldn't be something a lot of people disagree on."

That sentence first written and introduced in Congress in 1921 reads: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied by or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex."

This is what Rasheta and millions of women across the nation want. But what Rasheta and others are learning is, times may have changed, but the views of some of the legislatures most powerful lawmakers have not.

On Tuesday, Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers confirmed to ABC15 he, "has not assigned HCR 2030 to a committee because the U.S. Constitution already protects against gender-based discrimination, the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment expired decades ago, and the bill lacks the votes needed to pass.”

A bill did get assigned in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Chairman Eddie Farnsworth refuses to schedule it for a hearing -- a decision that frustrates ERA supporters like Rasheta.

"We have met with other legislators who seem less opposed, who are maybe more interested to hear us out. Since he (Farnsworth) has so much power, it's kind of frustrating to be blocking something people support."

"He's got some concerns about it," State Senator Victoria Steele of Tucson says, referring to Senator Farnsworth's reluctance to schedule the ERA resolution for a hearing.

Senator Steele says, "He's got those old fears that were brought up many decades ago and all of those have been pretty much resolved."

The American Bar Association sent a letter to Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Republican leaders including Senator Farnsworth asking them to move the ERA legislation.

In its letter, the ABA wrote, the ERA is needed to assure that gender equality is recognized as a fundamental, irrevocable right protected by the highest law in the land.

Steele knows the odds of getting lawmakers to vote on the ERA are long, but she and others believe their fight for equal rights has gone on too long and the time is never better to do it.

"Will this pass?" Senator Steele asks rhetorically. "I hope so. I'm praying for a miracle here."