An Arkansas bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment stalled yesterday -- despite support from current and former governors -- after failing to pass a state House committee.
State Rep. Lindsley Smith, the measure's lead sponsor, said she would try to bring it up again before the Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs at a later date.
"I'm looking forward to continuing the fight for equality," she said. "We'll see where it goes."
Two weeks ago, ERA supporters held a rally at the state Capitol. Gov. Mike Beebe said at the rally that the ERA was a matter of justice and fairness.
Yesterday, former Arkansas Gov. David Pryor urged lawmakers to pass the measure. If the proposal is ratified, Arkansas would become the 36th state to approve the amendment.
Mr. Pryor, who also is a former senator, said that as governor in 1975 he had tried to get the measure ratified.
"We didn't do it, and I have regretted it ever since that day," he said.
The Arkansas ERA bill was opposed by traditional-values groups, including the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Arkansas Right to Life, and Eagle Forum and its founder Phyllis Schlafly.
Mrs. Schlafly told lawmakers that the amendment would make all federal laws sex-neutral.
"The amendment pretends to help women, but it does nothing for them," she said.
Other objections focused on the "irregularity of the process" and "substantive legal implications" of trying to add an ERA ratification years after the deadline had expired.
"Many ERA supporters were not candid with the legislators, and that came back to bite them," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the NRLC. He added that some lawmakers withdrew support when they heard that ERAs have been used to require tax funding of abortion.
Bills to ratify the ERA also have been filed in Missouri, Florida and Illinois. A hearing was held on the Missouri bill yesterday. However, none of the measures has widespread support among lawmakers.
The ERA says: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
It was passed by Congress in 1972 but was not ratified by the necessary 38 states.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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