House Republican leaders outmaneuvered a bid by Democrats to finally get the legislature to vote whether to approve the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, complained during floor action Thursday that her legislation to put Arizona on record in favor of the amendment never even got a hearing. So she made a motion that the measure be brought to the full House for an immediate vote.
The maneuver, which is legal under House rules, caught GOP leaders by surprise.
But rather than simply allowing a vote on her motion, Speaker J.D. Mesnard made a procedural motion to instead have the House recess. That was approved along party lines, denying Democrats the vote they sought — and effectively keeping Republicans from having to go on the record on whether they support or oppose the amendment.
The proposal, approved by Congress in 1972, says that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”And it would empower Congress to enforce provisions.
That action sent it to the states for ratification. Legislatures in 36 states have acted, most recently Nevada earlier this year; HCR 2012 sought to add Arizona to that list, though four states have taken action to rescind their prior votes.
The measure needs approval of 38 states to become part of the U.S. Constitution.
A parade of Democrat lawmakers urged colleagues in the Republican-controlled House to quash the motion to recess and allow a vote.
“Do you want to go home and tell your daughters and granddaughters that you preferred to take a recess than actually have the opportunity to be leading and continuing to lead the state of Arizona?” asked Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe.
But Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, would not be pushed into having to make a decision.
“This is an issue I need to study more on,” said Townsend who was 4 years old when the amendment was introduced.
On one hand, Townsend said she no more supports paying someone less because of gender than she would to discriminate based on religion.
“I do have a problem with government telling businesses how to operate,” she said.
And Mesnard, seeking political cover for fellow Republicans, said no one should take a vote in favor of recess – essentially a vote to table the issue – as a vote against the Equal Rights Amendment. Instead, he argued, it should be seen as a vote to block Powers Hannley from bypassing the normal process.
That’s true. The process would have been to have a hearing in the House Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to which Mesnard had the bill assigned.
But Mesnard did not dispute that he knew that Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who chairs that panel, was unlikely to give it a hearing.
Farnsworth said he’s not against the concept of equal rights.
“I have seven daughters,” he said. But Farnsworth argued that state law already prohibits discrimination based on gender.
“What are we fixing?” he asked.
That fix, according to Powers Hannley, is that women are still, on average, being paid less than men, even as women are moving into the same kinds of jobs that men traditionally have held.
Farnsworth, however, said the measure may have “unintended consequences,” including the possibility that women would be subject to the draft if it is reinstated.
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said debate would be irrelevant. He argued that the time for ratifying the amendment expired in 1982.
But Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said there is nothing in the amendment itself that has a time limit.
Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, argued this should not be a partisan issue. He said when Sandra Day O’Connor was a state senator she supported the measure.
But O’Connor’s backing is less than clear.
When constituents wrote her in 1974 to support the measure she sent out a form letter.
“The Equal Rights Amendment recognizes the fundamental dignity and individuality of each human being and rests on the basic principle that sex should not be a factor in determining the legal rights of men or women,” she wrote. “On the other hand, many sincere and genuine questions have been raised about the interpretation of the broad general language of the amendment.”
So O’Connor’s official position was she would support a measure to send ratification to the ballot for an “advisory vote” that would not be binding on the legislature. That never happened.