Local & State
|Renewed hope for Equal Rights Amendment billís passage|
|NC Sen. Joyce Waddell is among co-sponsors|
|Published Friday, March 15, 2019|
|OFFICE OF NC SEN. JOYCE WADDELL|
|Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment gathered at the state capitol in Raleigh to campaign for N.C. lawmakers to pass a bill that would make the state the 38th to ratify the federal constitutional amendment.|
A bill filed by a Charlotte lawmaker would make North Carolina the 38th state to ratify gender equality as federal law.
State Sen. Joyce Waddell is a co-sponsor of SB 184, NC Adopt Equal Rights Amendment, which would clear the way for Congress to enshrine gender equality as part of the Constitution. A similar bill has been filed in the House. ERA bills have been introduced in the General Assembly for five straight years, but never come up for a vote in either chamber.
“We’ve got to keep it up,” Waddell said. “We want North Carolina to be that 38th state that we need to get it to be part of the United States Constitution and if we don’t keep pushing and doing it every time until it happens – filing those bills, having those press conferences and working with our constituents – it’s not going to happen.
“It’s one of those things we have to do to get the attention of the public, to get the attention of the voters and also the numbers we need in the General Assembly to keep it before them.”
The ERA, approved by Congress in 1972, prohibits discrimination based on sex. Thirteen states have yet to ratify the measure, including eight in the Southeast. The legislation, which was first introduced in Congress in the 1920s, languished on Capitol Hill for nearly 50 years before the House and Senate approved it in 1972 for states to consider passing it by 1982. There’s a debate now whether that deadline renders ERA moot.
Congress could extend the deadline if 38 states approve the measure, however. Legislatures in Arizona, Florida and Virginia voted down ERA last year. The North Carolina bills have never emerged from the committee stage for a full vote.
Passage is far from certain, however, with Republicans in the majority in both chambers. Senate President Phil Berger contends federal law, backed by courts, already guarantees gender equality.
“Sen. Berger agrees that women should be afforded equal protection under the law, and they are already afforded that protection under the U.S. Constitution,” Berger spokesman Bill D’Elia wrote in an email statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of gender equality based on the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause as well as the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.”
Last year’s elections cut into the GOP’s General Assembly numerical advantage, and Waddell believes there’s a better chance of passing the ERA bill in the 50-member Senate, where Republicans hold 29 seats. With no veto-proof majority for Republicans and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in charge of the executive branch, she believes there’s an opportunity for common ground.
“I’m more confident now than ever as senators,” Waddell said. “The last time, we had 15 [Democrats]. This time, we have 21. Before, we had very little dialogue between the Dems and Republicans in the Senate. Now they are speaking to us about legislation. They didn’t need us before, but now they need us.”
The ERA would recognize equal pay, job opportunities and contract enforcement as federal law instead of leaving it up to a patchwork of court decisions and individual state statutes. Women, Waddell maintains, will push to get what’s legally theirs.
“We’re the largest part of the voting block, we’re the largest part of the population and our voices must be heard,” she said. “We’ve gone too long without having equal rights, so now is the time.”
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