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Does the Equal Rights Amendment still matter? Local mayors say absolutely

Megan Holmes

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In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. In 2018, Illinois became the 37th. Last week, Florida took a few more small strides toward becoming the 38th. In the midst, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke before the Athena Society to express their support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and possible strategies for getting the amendment ratified in the Florida Legislature.

The Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in 1972, when it passed the required 2/3 vote through both houses. In order to become law, the amendment needed to successful win ratification by 38 states. Given seven years to pass, the deadline for the ERA’s ratification expired just two states shy of the threshold. With the latest ratifications, only one state remains before the threshold is met.

Because the deadline given by Congress has passed, it is not well understood what could happen once 38 states have ratified. The seven year deadline was included in the proposing clause of the amendment, not in the language of the amendment itself, so that the deadline was not ratified by states. As such, it is possible that the deadline could be extended or altered by majority vote, as it was in 1978, when it was extended by three years.

The uncertainty around what happens next for the ERA hasn’t stopped activists from pushing cities and counties to adopt resolutions asking the state of Florida to ratify the ERA. Both Tampa and St. Petersburg’s City Council have adopted such resolutions. The resolution also passed unanimously through the Hillsborough County Commission last Thursday.

Before the Athena society, Kriseman and Castor shared their support for the ERA and the continued importance of the fight for ratification. Castor, who prior to winning the Tampa mayoral election was the city’s first female police chief, applauded the renewed discussions surrounding the ERA, and detailed the importance of having conversations on a topic misunderstood by many.

“It is the right thing to do, and it should have been done a long time ago,” said Castor.

“Most Americans believe this is already passed,” she said. “We have to educate … How wonderful would it be for Florida to be on the cutting edge of something positive.”

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Kriseman explained. In states like Nevada and Illinois, politicians from both sides of the aisle led the movement for ratification. Kriseman advised that the best thing citizens can do is try to lobby their state representatives and senators on a personal level.

“Try to get past the partisan issue,” Kriseman said. “Florida is – and I jokingly refer to our state as ‘Flori-duh’ – but Florida sometimes gets hung up on partisanship and we dig our heels in instead of just doing the right thing and doing what makes sense.”

“What’s going to resonate with that particular elected official we’re talking to? Let’s tailor our message to that. If it’s economics that’s going to resonate, let’s have that conversation. If it’s fundamental fairness and values and morals then let’s have that conversation. But we have to look and know who our audience is that we’re speaking to, and try to communicate to them in a way that connects with them.”

Kriseman shared a powerful economic argument for the ERA, citing the recent relocation of Dynasty Financial from New York City to St. Petersburg as one example of how policies and values of fairness can appeal to companies looking to call Florida home. “They looked at locations across the country… you can throw tax credits and different tax incentives at them, but what it comes down to and what it came down to for Dynasty was quality of life,” Kriseman explained.

“What they really liked, and what I really love about their company and why they fit so well in St. Pete, is they liked the diversity in our community. They like the tolerance and the welcoming city that we’ve created in St. Petersburg,” he said.

“That’s what they wanted. They wanted their employees to be able to live in a city where it doesn’t matter what your gender is, it doesn’t matter your race, your religion, your orientation. None of that matters. Everybody is held up high.”

“I want to underscore exactly what the mayor just said,” said Castor. “We in Tampa Bay just hosted the first national Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to ever be held in the state of Florida.” The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s record-breaking NGLCC International Business and Leadership Conference was the largest LGBT business event in the world.

Hillsborough State Representative Fentrice Driskel also weighed in on the power of the economic message in Tallahassee. “We have to create a tipping point on this, in terms of public opinion but also in terms of public action. So forums like this are fantastic, but this is in Tampa, I need some of ya’ll to come to Tallahassee,” she said.

“I want us to be the place where businesses want to come … [Businesses like] Dynasty Financial want to bring those high-paying jobs to our state, but they want to know our state is forward looking, forward thinking.”

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