Arizona Democrats Push ERA One More Time, Republicans Block Them Again

Elizabeth Whitman/Phoenix New Times
Arizona House Democrats gather around House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez as she explains her support for the Equal Rights Amendment.
For the third time in three years and the second this legislative session, Arizona Democrats tried Tuesday to force a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment in the state legislature.

Once again, Republicans blocked them, along with any real debate on equal pay or other salient aspects of gender equity, effectively killing all chances of the ERA's ratification in Arizona this year.

Representative Pamela Powers Hannley, a Democrat from Tucson, made the motion to bring a resolution to ratify the ERA to a vote. She had to invoke an emergency declaration to do so, because the resolution had never had a first reading in the House.

Then Republican Warren Petersen made a motion to table Powers Hannley's motion.

The representatives voted 31-29 along party lines in favor of Petersen's motion, and what was effectively a procedural motion turned into a final opportunity for lawmakers, over the course of more than an hour, to explain their stances on the Equal Rights Amendment.

"It's about fighting discrimination and structural sexism in the United States," Powers Hannley said in explaining her vote against tabling the motion. In the chamber around her, a handful of white, green, and purple sashes indicating support for the ERA draped across the backs of several representatives' seats.

Other Democrats, like Representatives Randy Frieze and Athena Salman, criticized Republicans for blocking the resolution from going through the legislative process — for never giving it a hearing that would incorporate input from constituents. 

"This year, the bill didn't even get assigned to committee," Salman said. "The majority party has literally taken women a step backwards in the process." Republicans, she and other Democrats said, should have nothing to fear from giving the ERA a fair shake in the legislative process.

Republicans, both women and men, cited several odd pieces of evidence as proof that actually, women — who, they did not acknowledge, still earn 80.7 percent of what men earn for doing the same work — don't face discrimination in the United States in 2019.

Arizona has the highest number of elected female officials in the country, said Representative Regina Cobb.

"Here we are saying that we are not equal," Cobb said. If Arizona passed the ERA, it would be "setting women backwards," she added, to scoffing and chuckles from a gallery packed with union supporters of the ERA.

Another Republican, Representative Joanne Osborne, interpreted the ERA as a claim that women were not equal to men, rather than as a solution to a well-evidenced problem that under the law, women are fundamentally not treated as equal to men — in workplaces, for one example.

"If any of you on this floor wants to tell me that I'm not equal, then we have a real debate!" she flared.

The Equal Rights Amendment is relatively straightforward. It would change the U.S. Constitution to guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of sex. Currently, the Constitution guarantees to both men and women only the right to vote. The Constitution does not provide women with equal protection on the basis of sex.

Arizona Representative Pamela Powers Hannley
Arizona House of Representatives
To advocates, the ERA is crucial in securing equal pay and other forms of equal treatment under the law. But in Arizona, Republicans have stymied efforts for the last three years to ratify the ERA.

In March, after a group of ERA advocates walked a total of 38 miles in three days in metro Phoenix as a show of support, the Senate blocked a procedural move to hear the ERA on the floor. That came after Senator Eddie Farnsworth, a Republican from Gilbert who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to allow the bill to be heard in committee.

Constitutional amendments must be ratified by three-fourths of states. In 2019, ERA supporters across the country looked to Arizona to become the 38th state to approve the constitutional amendment, after other states failed to do so. Congress passed the amendment and sent it to the states in 1972. Since then, 37 states have ratified the ERA, although five have since rescinded their ratification.

Dianne Post, one of four steering committee members of the ERA Task Force AZ, a coalition pushing for the amendment's ratification in the state, said in late March the task force would not give up until the session was over.

"Nothing is dead until adjournment," she said, citing the case of Illinois, which in 2018 passed the ERA a day before its legislative session ended. "It ain't over till they adjourn," she said.

In a subsequent interview on Monday, Post still held out hope.

"If we're going to live out the promise of America, of equality for everyone, then we have to have constitutional equality for women," Post said.