Democratic women want legislators to know: 'We're watching'
Some of the young women carrying signs scrawled with slogans like "Time to ratify the ERA" weren't even born when the proposal was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972. But they, along with a couple women legislators, leaders and other Democratic women from around the state, came to the Capitol Monday to show they haven't given up on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. They also want legislators to know they're "watching" them on numerous key issues like the Parent Trigger bill, election reform, Medicaid expansion and women's healthcare.
"Despite the good things that have happened, we continue to be under assault here in this state," said Rep. Lori Berman, who with Rep. Janet Cruz has co-sponsored a bill (HB 8001) that would ratify the ERA in Florida. The bill was workshopped Monday in the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee, its first of three stops, but the odds are against it passing with the clock ticking on this session.
"We're going to push even harder," said Berman, D-Lantana, "and next year hopefully we're going to get a vote and move Florida to be one of the three states that are needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment."
The amendment simply states that equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged because of sex. Thirty-five states approved the amendment by the 1982 deadline, three states short of the 38 needed to ratify the ERA. Florida remains one of 15 states that didn't approve the amendment. An Arkansas Senate panel last week rejected a bid to ratify the ERA amendment. Whether getting approval in three more states will put the amendment in the Constitution isn't clear.
As for abortion issues, another topic that was also controversial in the '70s, she said "I think it's probably a little better (this session), but we shouldn't even be discussing this at all. We need to discuss the economy and jobs and I don't understand why we're discussing women's reproductive rights." Berman is concerned about the rights of pregnant women and was successful with another bill (HB 717) Tuesday that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth, and has one more committee stop. The Senate version has two more stops. "It's sad that we need it, but we have to do this, and hopefully we'll get this done" Berman said.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant was especially critical of the possibility the state will turn down federal money for Medicaid expansion. "You have a right to affordable health care," she told the cheering crowd. She later referred to her own experiences, when her son, who has a disabling condition called Williams Syndrome had to undergo open heart surgery at 23 months old. "We received a bill from the hospital for $106,000," she said. If not for their insurance policy, Tant continued, "I could be that mother, sitting bedside by my child, frantic about how I was going to pay the bills, figuring out if I could borrow enough money, wash enough dishes in a restaurant and watch my child deteriorate because I couldn't put the money together fast enough."
She and other speakers also criticized the parent trigger bill, which Democratic Women's Club of Florida President Janet Goen called the "parent trick" bill and "we're not falling for it."
On the bright side, Cruz, D-Tampa, said there has been progress in electing more women to the Legislature. In 1975, a year after I was out of high school, there was one woman in the Senate and only 12 members in the House, for a total of only 8 percent of women" in the legislature. Today, women make up 25 percent of Florida lawmakers, she said. We come from different parties, but we still have the common thread of bringing a unique perspective of a woman to a male-dominated Florida Legislature.