Senate Votes To Ratify ERA, Now Heads to Assembly

Mar 2, 2017

Credit ALEXA ARD

Nevada could soon become the first state in 35 years to vote in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment – a measure that would place legal protections for women in the U-S constitution. 

The ERA failed to garner enough support when it was first introduced in the 70’s, but some lawmakers say it time for the state to at least symbolically approve the amendment.

"The Secretary will please close the roll. The yeas are 13. The neas are eight. Senate Joint Resolution Two, having received the constitutional majority required is ordered passed and transmitted to the Assembly."

45 years after Congress originally passed the Equal Rights Amendment; Nevada Senate voted to ratify the constitutional change on yesterday. When states originally debated the merits of the amendment, Congress placed a 1982 deadline for its approval. Yet, some are hopeful Congress could resurrect the constitutional change if the remaining handful of states get on board, however it seems unlikely with Republicans in control of both chambers.

Senator Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) speaks on behalf of SJR2
Credit Nevada Legislature

Introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 2, the measure would make Nevada the 36th state to approve the measure.

“When it comes to equality, I don't care if it’s 40 years or 140 years, we should never stop fighting; never,” says North Las Vegas Democrat Pat Spearman, the bill’s sponsor. “We deserve equality,"

For more than an hour of passionate debate from both sides of the aisle, SJR2 passed the Senate by a vote of 13 to 8 largely split down party line. Reno Republican Heidi Gansert was the only member of the GOP to break rank.

"This year we celebrate having 40 percent of the legislative seats held by women," she says. "We have strong women serving as house leaders and chairs. Women are stepping up and stepping forward and I am proud to stand alongside them. While this vote on the Equal Rights Amendment may be redundant because of the work is done here in Nevada and in other states, it is still a powerful symbol of the need for equality."

The lawmakers who voted against the amendment echoed many of the concerns that have plagued the ERA since its inception. Some argued the measure is not needed because the 14th amendment which provides protections for all citizens already guarantees protections. Some said it would continue to erode traditional family values.

For Las Vegas Republican Becky Harris, the only female Senator to vote against the measure, the possibility that women could be drafted into military service. She says that decision could have significant consequences and should be left up to federal lawmakers.

"For the last 15 years Congress has continued to dance around this issue, unable to require young women to register for the draft," Harris says. "I don't want to do through this amendment what Congress itself has simply been unable and unwilling to do."

Still others say the passage of the ERA could lead to an increase in abortions.

"What we are talking about, what I am talking about is taxpayer-funded abortions, the practice of partial-birth abortion and whether states can have parental notification or parental consent laws," says Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson. "This is a moral issue for me. I think there should be fewer abortions, not more."

Reno resident Annie Evans joined other supporters in Carson City to watch the Senate debate the ratification of the ERA.
Credit Paul Boger

Along with legislators, the debate was watched closely by several local advocates. For 24-year-old Reno resident Annie Evans the work’s not over. Wearing a green sash and a button that says “ERA YES” she says it's more important now than ever to push lawmakers for the amendment.

"We have to keep talking to them, especially now, and demonstrate and write letters, make phone calls, send emails and make sure that we are being active," she says. "Because if we are not being active in our democracy then it's not really a democracy."

The amendment will now move to the Assembly where guarantees have already been made that Nevada will ratify the ERA.