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    Equal Rights Amendment push renewed

    Activists rally outside the Capitol for companion bills to ratify the 31-year-old women's rights measure.

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 26, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- With American women fighting in Iraq, Florida activists on Tuesday revived a long-dormant effort to get an Equal Rights Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution.

    "If women are being allowed to fight in our armed forces, then those women should be given the constitutional rights that they deserve," said Joan Hinden, a 68-year-old activist who traveled to Tallahassee Tuesday from her home in Tamarac.

    At a small rally outside the Capitol, lawmakers unveiled bills (HB 615 and SB 116) that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Florida.

    Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, is sponsoring the measure in the House. Both Republicans and Democrats have signed onto Joyner's bill, and it has 23 co-sponsors, including 10 men. St. Petersburg Republican Rep. Frank Farkas is among them.

    The goal is to add these words to the U.S. Constitution: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

    Congress approved that wording in 1972. Both the Republican and Democratic parties included it in their platforms. But, to add it to the Constitution, 38 states must ratify it. Only 35 states ratified it by the 1982 deadline.

    Now, supporters say the 35 ratifications are still valid, though that question will probably end up in court. Organizers are looking to get three more states to ratify the ERA. They want Florida to be one of the states.

    "I'd be embarrassed if my sons were members of the Legislature and they voted against this -- against me," said Rep. Nancy Detert, R-Venice.

    One former Florida House speaker, Ralph Haben, told organizers Tuesday that he regrets voting against the ERA in the Legislature 20 years ago.

    "I look back at that vote, and it's probably the one vote I would change," said Haben, now a lobbyist.

    So far, neither ERA bill has been assigned to a committee. But the Florida effort's main organizer, 68-year-old Sandy Oestreich of St. Petersburg, said ERA supporters plan to lobby lawmakers.

    Republican Rep. Donna Clarke of Sarasota said women aren't treated equally with men, especially in pay. Nationwide, she said, a job that pays a man $50,000 a year pays a woman $37,500.

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