News - March 16, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Its opponents have called the Equal Rights Amendment -- a measure on its way to passage in the Democratically-dominated Nevada Legislature -- symbolic at best, but also outdated and unnecessary.

Yet one of its main sponsors, State Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, bristled at those notions on Nevada Newsmakers Thursday, saying the measure could give women power in the court system, as far as using it to ensure their pay for the same job is on par with men.

"If we didn't need for this to be enshrined in our (U.S.) Constitution, why in the world would we have such a gap in terms of pay equity?" Spearman said Thursday.

That constitutional equality would give women "leverage" in lawsuits over equal pay, Spearman said.

Overall, women make only 80 cents to the dollar, compared to their white, male counterparts, for the same job, according to the National Women's Law Center of Washington D.C. Black women make 63 cents to the dollar and Latinas make 54 cents to the dollar, when compared to their white, male counterparts.

"It does for women the same thing that other amendments have done for ensuring equal rights for other groups," Spearman said Thursday of the ERA.

"It gives us more leverage in terms of saying, 'I have been discriminated against and you have violated my constitutional rights," Spearman said. "Right now, we cannot say that."

Spearman said the 2017 Legislature could pass a law about pay equity, yet if Republicans take the majority, it could be undone.

"States can pass laws," she said. "I have a pay equity bill that will be coming up shortly. We can pass laws, But then those laws could be rescinded. People don't have to abide by them.

"What the Equal Rights Amendment says is purely, solely and explicitly is that the rights of people will not be abridged based upon sex," Spearman said. "It's about equality. All the other nonsense that people have tacked on to it is just that -- nonsense."

The ERA's potential power extends beyond wage issues, Spearman said.

"It is not just about equal pay but equality anywhere," she said. "It is one thing to say, 'I'm going to sue.' It is one thing to say that and take it to court. It is another thing to say the Constitution guarantees me this right to equality."

The ERA has already passed the state Senate. Earlier this week, it passed out of the Assembly Legislative Operations Committee. Assembly floor approval is expected Friday or early next week, Spearman said.

The bill must also pass a Assembly-Senate conference committee to agree on amendments. As a resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 2, it does not need to be signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Yet nationally, the ERA has a long way to go and has been battling for inclusion into the Constitution for more than four decades.

Congress approved the ERA in 1972. Ten years later, not enough states had ratified the measure for inclusion into the Constitution. Yet Spearman hopes national interests would be revived by Nevada's approval of the ERA and other states would also ratify it.

"I don't know if you are looking at the national level, but all eyes right now are on Nevada. People are looking to see what we are going to do," Spearman said. "This is such a dynamic time for our state. All eyes are on Nevada for the ERA. All eyes are on Nevada for energy. All eyes are on Nevada for health care. People are looking to see what we are going to do."

Passage in Nevada would be historic. The Nevada Legislature shot down the ERA in 1973, 1975 and 1977. A 1978 ERA ballot measure lost by a two-to-one margin.