TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A longstanding initiative to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the State of Florida will be revisited this legislative session after a bill was introduced by state lawmakers on Tuesday.
State Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville reintroduced a bill on the first day of the 2018 legislative session that seeks to ratify the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to equal rights for men and women. The amendment was first approved by Congress in 1972.
Since then, numerous unsuccessful attempts have been made by members of the Florida Legislature to pass a resolution that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the Sunshine State.
“As long as I'm in the legislature or until we have enough states to ratify the amendment, and certainly with Florida included in that, I will continue to file what I think is the right legislation or resolution to get us there,” said Gibson.
While the Constitution of the State of Florida grants equal rights for men and women, the ratification of the amendment would guarantee that those rights are protected in all 50 states.
A total of 36 states have endorsed the amendment since it was first sent to the states for ratification 46 years ago. The constitutional amendment must be ratified by three-fourths (38) of state legislatures before it can be affixed to the U.S. Constitution.
Fourteen states remain unratified, a majority of which are in the Southern United States. Nevada officially became the 36th state to ratify the ERA in March of 2017, nearly 35 years after the congressional deadline of June 30, 1982.
Despite it being several decades overdue, proponents of the equal rights initiative believe the 35 existing ratifications would still be legally viable, due to the ratification of the 27th Amendment, which took 203 years to achieve.
If the required number of states ratify the amendment, as stipulated in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, its fate would be left in the hands of congressional leaders, who could further extend the ERA deadline, repeal the time limit altogether, or simply do nothing.
“The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality applauds Florida State Senator Audrey Gibson for introducing a resolution, which if adopted by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor Scott, would lead to Florida being the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Dan Merkan, chairman of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality.
A total of nine state legislatures have revisited the constitutional amendment since the deadline. ERA ratification bills were introduced in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia in 2017.
Gibson sponsored that previous measure in the Florida Legislature to no avail. After being referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Gibson is a member of, her bill was indefinitely postponed late in the legislative session.
However, a lot has transpired since May of 2017, when Gibson's previous bill was withdrawn from consideration. Gibson said she's unsure if recent reports of sexual misconduct and harassment directed at women will have an influence on the bill's passage.
“I'm not sure that people will make the connection still, although they should because there should be no gender discrimination, there should be no salary differences and if this is what it takes to get that, then if they can make that connection, it should pass.”
Gibson's newest ERA ratification initiative was co-sponsored on Tuesday by Democrat Sens. Linda Stewart, Lauren Book and Jose Javier Rodriguez. Stewart was the sole co-sponsor of Gibson's previous resolution.
A companion bill was also introduced in the Florida House on Tuesday by Rep. Patricia Williams of Fort Lauderdale.
The House measure has been referred to the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, where it will be read before and voted on by several other Democratic lawmakers from Northeast Florida. State Reps. Kim Daniels and Tracie Davis both sit on the committee and represent parts of Jacksonville.
This is the tenth time state lawmakers have introduced legislation to ratify the ERA in Florida since 2007.
“I'm hopeful that enough members in the House and Senate will see the point of having equal rights for men and women in this country,” Gibson said. “There is no reason why we shouldn't have it ratified in the constitution. If we are truly believers in equality, then there should be no one who would oppose making sure that men and women are equal under the law and they are treated equally in their everyday lives.”