The struggle for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment is not over, although the chances for victory in the current legislative session are slight.
According to VAratifyERA, an activist group, there are three paths to getting the ERA ratification to the floor of the legislature before the end of the session on Feb. 23. Pro-ERA groups are sponsoring a rally on Thursday, Feb. 14, on the steps of the Capitol, 1000 Bank St., Richmond, to urge legislators to act before it is too late.
Path 1: Committee Process
If two Republicans in the House Privileges & Elections committee join the ten Democrats in favor they can move the ERA bill, SJ 284, to the committee agenda and ultimately the House floor.
According to VAratifyERA, the most likely Republicans to make such a move are Dels. Chris Jones and Jay Leftwich. They represent Chesapeake and Suffolk, where there have been very active groups supporting ERA (including members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a Republican women’s club). The city councils of both Chesapeake and Suffolk passed ERA resolutions with unanimous, bipartisan support. Their phone numbers to register support for ERA are: Jones 804-698-1076, and Leftwich 804-698-1078.
This is the simplest path to the floor as it does not require any change to standard legislative processes.
Path 2: Negotiations
At this point in the session, particularly since the budget is already done, this path is unlikely. However, delegates are still free to cut deals with each other on remaining issues.
Path 3: Rules Change
VAratifyERA terms this the “hail Mary pass” option but believes it is the most likely path to the floor. Summarizing how this would work:
In the Virginia House, when a popular piece of legislation is obstructed repeatedly, by a small number of delegates, there is a built in mechanism called “discharge the committee” that can bring this legislation straight to the floor.
Unfortunately, the Republicans are interpreting that mechanism to require a 2/3 majority of the House for a resolution (versus the simple majority as would be required for a bill).
But there is a fallback plan: a rules change under Rule 81. This allows anyone in the chamber to propose a rule change, which can be passed after five days by a simple majority vote (50 yes minimum of the 99 delegates in the House).
VAratifyERA has drafted a rules change so specific to the Equal Rights Amendment that a vote for the rules change is purely a vote to bring ERA to the floor (and a vote against it is a vote to keep ERA off the floor). Read the proposed rules change below. This rules change would force all delegates to go on the record, one way or the other.
Says VAratifyERA: “Equality advocates want to know which Virginia delegates would fight to the end for constitutional equality versus who are our fair weather friends. We’ve been working around the clock for many months and until all options are exhausted we can’t stop / won’t stop!”
Proposed Rules Change
RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, pursuant to Rule 81 of the Rules of the House of Delegates (“Rules”), that Rule 38 of the Rules is amended and readopted as follows:
Rule 38. No bill, joint resolution, or resolution calling for information from the Governor or other public officer or agent shall be introduced, considered, or acted upon otherwise than is provided by Rule 37 and shall not be acted upon until it shall have been examined and reported upon by a committee.
Rule 38(a). A motion for immediate consideration of a Senate Joint Resolution ratifying, by a vote of three-fifths of the Senate voting in favor, a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, which proposed amendment had been approved by the Senate three times within the immediately preceding five years, regardless of whether the joint resolution has been reported upon by a committee, shall require a majority of those voting, with the vote thereon to be taken by the use of the electronic voting system or, if it is inoperable, by viva voce by response to the call of names arranged and called in alphabetical order except that the Speaker shall be called last. Upon a motion made pursuant to this Rule, the mover shall be allowed two minutes to state the reasons for his motion, and one member opposing shall be allowed a like time to object
Photo: “The Awakening,” an editorial cartoon by Henry Mayer depicts the first states to allow women to vote. It is on display at the Freeman Store and Museum in Vienna, VA