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Arizona House Republicans again block vote on ERA

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PHOENIX — House Republicans have once again blocked a vote over whether Arizona should ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

On a party-line vote Wednesday, lawmakers voted down a motion by Rep. Judy Schweibert, D-Phoenix, to bring the measure directly to the floor for a vote. She had to take that route because Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, refused to give the measure a hearing after it was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee which he chairs.

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, the vice chair of the committee, said she sees no reason for the amendment.

She said there already are sufficient laws to guarantee things like equal pay for women, and that her fear is an alternate agenda.

“This is a back-door abortion bill,’’ she said, reciting fears that putting equal rights based on gender into the U.S. Constitution would effectively undermine efforts to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that women have the right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said that concern and others are off base, as the amendment contains just 23 words that say equality of rights under the law “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.’’

“You’ll note that the ERA includes no mention of military service for women, no mention of gender-neutral bathrooms, and no mention of abortion,’’ she said. “So let’s discard those erroneous arguments from the 1970s.’’

Schweibert said the fact there are statutory protections against discrimination based on gender isn’t enough to eliminate the need for a constitutional amendment.

“No accumulation of accomplishments or laws can substitute for the fundamental law of the land,’’ she said.

The effort goes back decades. In fact, it was pointed out during debate that early ratification efforts were pushed by Sandra Day O’Connor, then a Republican state senator in Arizona.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, acknowledged the string of prior defeats. But she told colleagues she held out hope that things had changed.

“I guess every year we hope there’s a new group of people who have talked to women in your district, maybe a new group of people who have listened to your wives or your daughters and have come to the conclusion that, yes, women should be guaranteed equal rights under the law,’’ Butler said.

Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said he did speak with his wife and that his vote against ratification was based on that.

Others had different reasons.

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, pointed out that 24 of the 60 state representatives are women. He cited other women in positions of authority, including the new state adjutant general.

“So I would like to explain my vote by saying ‘no’ because I want to talk about the accomplishments of women, the accomplishments of each and every woman in this chamber and their hard work to get here,’’ Blackman said, adding, “(you) earned the right to be here because of your ability, not because of your gender.’’

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he isn’t hearing any demand for the amendment from his rural district.

Rep. Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix, questioned the whole exercise. He pointed out that the deadline set by Congress to ratify the amendment expired in 1982.

But Powers Hannley noted the U.S. House already approved a measure to retroactively eliminate that deadline, although it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Deadlines aside, less clear is whether ratification by Arizona would have any legal meaning. That is because Virginia lawmakers last year took that vote, making it the necessary 38th state for ERA approval; Powers Hannley sought to make Arizona No. 39.

But five states have taken action to revoke their ratifications, and any court ruling on the validity of those actions could make action in Arizona relevant.

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