- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

MIAMI, March 27 (UPI) — Forces trying to push through the Equal Eights Amendment of 1972 haven't given up yet, and they are concentrating their latest efforts in Florida and Illinois.

In Florida, however, Gov. Jeb Bush has brushed it off as a bell-bottoms-era issue that could only be seen as divisive.

In Illinois, Jennifer Macleod, national coordinator of the ERA Campaign Network, said Thursday the issue is out of committee in the House and has the support of the Senate president in the other chamber.

"We are very hopeful," Macleod said. "And then we would need only two more states."

Other states where efforts have been mounted recently were Missouri, Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. The 2002 elections in Missouri amounted to a setback for ERA supporters and the effort in Virginia is sputtering. Oklahoma and Arizona still have active campaigns.

The amendment was passed by Congress 31 years ago, and needed ratification by 38 states, but got only 35 before the seven-year deadline was reached.

The deadline was subsequently extended to 1982, but no more states ratified it.

Macleod said that any subsequent Congress can extend the deadline if it so wishes, so the favored strategy is to get the required 38 states and then get Congress to extend the deadline.

A backup strategy would be start over, she said. Every Congressional session since then a start-over bill was introduced in Congress but stalled in every case.

This year, Rep. Caroline Mahoney, D-New York, reintroduced the bill in the House and has 198 co-sponsors. If they get 20 more they might be able to get it out of committee. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is expected to introduce a Senate bill later.

The issue had been declared dead by opponents in 1982 because it had been unsuccessful for so long, but James Madison came to the rescue 10 years later. An amendment regarding congressional pay that he introduced in 1789 was brought back to life in 1992, providing precedent for a new ERA effort.

But if Gov. Bush's reaction is any indication, it's going to face tough going in Florida. He characterized it as "kind of a retro subject."

"It's like going back and wearing bell-bottoms," said Bush with a chuckle. "To open up a debate like that would generate a lot of heat and not a lot of light."

Although the amendment does not require the governor's signature, Bush's reaction is complicated by the 2004 presidential election in which his brother will be running for re-election.

A heated debate that could potentially alienate some woman voters, could complicate things for the president as he seeks Florida's 27 electoral votes.

Bush said the amendment wasn't necessary because of recent advances made by women.

"I don't see the need," he said. "I don't believe women should be discriminated against, and there are law that prohibit that."

Bush also cited his own administration in which the lieutenant governor, chief of staff and legal counsel are all women.

Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled a committee vote for Tuesday.

He said he wants to pass the ERA as a gift to his wife, Barbara, and his 12-year-old daughter Katie.

"How can someone oppose this?" Villalobos asked. "Why should my daughter not have the same opportunity as everybody else. Why should she be paid less some day?"

Miami Beach Democrat Gwen Margolis sponsored the bill.

"The truth of the matter is that women are still making less money than men in comparable jobs," Margolis said. "It's time to make a statement that we're in a new era."

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