Nevada Legislature: Equal Rights hearing draws large and emotional crowd | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Legislature: Equal Rights hearing draws large and emotional crowd

Sarah Mahler hands out ERA pins and stickers before the start of the first state Senate hearing on Monday to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment for women in Nevada.
Jim Grant | Nevada Appeal

Lawmakers were told on Monday that putting the Equal Rights Amendment banning gender discrimination in the U.S. Constitution is decades, even centuries, overdue.

But opponents charged that the amendment would actually harm women and further strip away states rights.

Senate Joint Resolution 2 would make Nevada, the 36th state admitted to the union, the 36th state to ratify the ERA.

The proposed amendment needs 38 states to approve it to become part of the U.S. Constitution.

Sponsor Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas, said the ERA was first proposed to the First Congress in 1789 but not passed by Congress until 1972, nearly 200 years later.

“We continue to see evidence of the need for passage of the ERA every day,” said Spearman.

She pointed to the unequal pay received by many women is a key example as well as the unequal pay in sports at every level from the national women’s soccer team to high schools and university teams.

Spearman said numerous laws have been passed to protect women’s rights but that, they don’t rest on “an unassailable” constitutional base.

But longtime ERA opponent Janine Hansen of Eagle Forum said she believes the ERA would result in “a tremendous transfer of power that would take place from the hands of state legislatures to the federal government.”

Hansen said that would include laws governing marriage and property laws as well as require elimination of laws that currently give women an advantage in a variety of areas. She said even Majority Leader Aaron Ford’s bill to provide loans to women in business would be outlawed as would the homemaker social security benefit women who don’t qualify for Social Security currently receive if their husband dies.

She and several other opponents also said the ERA would expose women to the draft and front line combat.

At the request of Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes basically said passage of the amendment doesn’t necessarily prohibit passing laws that recognize different requirements and treatment of men and women. She said the ERA doesn’t have “absolute statute-like effect,” and that those existing statutes would have to be reviewed on a case by case basis.

“Women can do as excellent work as men but I don’t think combat is one of them,” said Independent American Party Chairman John Wagner.

Marlene Lockard, former chief of staff to Gov. Richard Bryan, said the ERA was presented to Nevada lawmakers in both 1975 and 1977. It passed the Senate in 1977 but died in the Assembly.

Then Sen. Sue Wagner brought it back in 1981 but then Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Floyd Lamb, D-Las Vegas, introduced it, then moved for “no further consideration.”

“With a simple vote, it was over,” said former state Senator Helen Foley.

“This founding document of this country does not recognize women as equal in stature,” said local government lobbyist Dagney Stapleton.

“It does not matter if you’re a man or a woman,” said veteran lobbyist Mindy Elliott. “What matters is you’re an American and you believe in equal justice for all.”

“The opposition says laws will pass that will make everybody equal,” said lobbyist Sam McMullen. “That hasn’t proven to be the case.”

He urged lawmakers to pass the resolution.

Leslie Sexton of Dayton said her mother named her after her father in part because it was a male name: “She knew that if my name ever appeared on a list, I would have a better chance. She knew a female name would go to the bottom of the list.”

Reno council member Naomi Duerr said it’s not a “partisan issue but a human rights issue.”

Angie Sullivan, a Clark County teacher, said she doesn’t feel that female dominated field is treated as well as other professions that are male dominated..

Lynn Chapman of Nevada Families for Freedom said the differences between male and female salaries, according to studies, “is the result of a multitude of factors,” suggesting that women are not actually paid that much less.

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, rejected that.

“Data shows women are not paid the same,” he said. “So to hear some one say that is astonishing to me.”

Don Nelson of Nevada life and Melissa Clement of Nevada Right to Life said it is an “attempt to provide an unfettered right to abortion.” Clement said if the resolution was amended to make sure it had nothing to do with abortion, her group would remove their opposition.

Longtime anti-abortion activist Richard Zeiser said government paid abortion “will come out of this.”

Spearman, however, said if she wanted to sponsor an abortion bill, “it would be in there.”

“The fact abortion is not in there really should tip everybody off this is not an abortion bill.”

Several opponents argued that, since the original 1972 bill passed by Congress set a deadline for states to ratify the amendment that has long since passed. Bonnie McDaniel said that means the amendment “has to start all over again in the U.S. Congress.”

Senate Majority Leader Ford, however, put the question bluntly: “Why are we still having this conversation?”

“It should have been put to bed a long time ago,” he said. “I’m here to tell you this go around the Equal Rights Amendment will be ratified in Nevada.”

The committee took no action on SJR2.