Illinois Senate approves federal Equal Rights Amendment, more than 35 years after the deadline

By Monique Garcia  |   Chicago Tribune

The ignorant at work…..


The Illinois Senate on Wednesday voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, renewing a push from decades ago amid the #MeToo movement to guarantee that rights can’t be denied because of a person’s sex.

The vote came about 36 years after the amendment appeared to die after just 35 states ratified it, three short of what was needed by the 1982 deadline. That means Illinois’ approval could be largely symbolic. Still, advocates have pushed for a “three-state solution,” contending Congress can extend the deadline and the amendment should go into effect if three additional states vote in favor.

The amendment passed on a vote of 43-12, with no debate on the Senate floor. It now heads to the House, where sponsoring Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, says he is working to build support but warned it’s far from a “slam-dunk.” The House and Senate each have voted in favor in the past, but it has yet to clear both in the same year.

Opponents have questioned the relevance of approving the amendment, given that so much time has passed since the deadline. They note the Illinois Constitution already guarantees equal protections regardless of sex.

Supporters, though, say they believe this is the year Illinois will approve the amendment, citing outrage over sexual harassment controversies from which the state Capitol hasn’t been immune.

“I think voting to ratify the ERA helps give voice to these women and say, ‘We hear you, we are with you and we agree,” said Sen. Heather Steans, the Chicago Democrat carrying the amendment in the Senate. “It’s high time we provide equal rights to women across the country.”

All 12 lawmakers who voted against the bill Wednesday are Republicans. Just one woman, Rep. Jil Tracy of Quincy, voted no. She said afterward that the focus should be on enforcing equality laws already on the books, and questioned the “viability” of passing the amendment decades after the deadline.

“I am totally for equal treatment,” Tracy said. “I just didn’t see a purpose to go on with this.”

Prior to the vote, the Senate’s newly formed bipartisan women’s caucus announced it was supporting the effort.

“You are looking at a group of women who really, we have our differences on many issues, but we respect each other and together we are very committed to the idea of advancing and promoting legislation and policy that is good for women,” said Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a Republican from St. Charles. “This is the first piece of legislation our caucus has endorsed, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and I think it’s fitting this is the first piece.”

Lang, the House sponsor of the amendment, said he would push for a vote to ratify it “as soon as possible.” He said he was working to combat opposition from conservative groups such as the Illinois Family Institute, which contends the ERA could lead to abortion restrictions being overturned since it’s a medical practice that applies only to women.

“We are trying to dispel those myths, and after we do so we think we will have the votes to pass this,” Lang said. “But it’s not going to be a slam-dunk, and so we have a lot of work to do over the next days to make this happen.”

Lang needs 71 votes to win approval for the constitutional amendment, more than the usual 60 required for typical laws. That means he’ll need the support of some Republican lawmakers, but the bill doesn’t need the signature of Gov. Bruce Rauner. A spokeswoman for the governor didn’t respond to a question about whether he favors it.

Illinois’ political leaders have faced questions about gender and power dynamics in the Capitol and on the campaign trail following harassment allegations lodged against a state senator and top aides of longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

In November, victims rights advocate Denise Rotheimer accused Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, of making unwanted comments about her appearance, sending her hundreds of Facebook messages and placing late night phone calls. He eventually was cleared of sexual harassment by the new legislative inspector general, but she determined he engaged in conduct “unbecoming of a legislator.” He voted for the amendment Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Madigan faced calls to step down as head of the Democratic Party of Illinois after he parted ways earlier this year with two key political operatives.

In February, Madigan dismissed longtime political worker Kevin Quinn, the brother of 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, after campaign worker Alaina Hampton sent the speaker a letter accusing Kevin Quinn of sexual harassment. Hampton has since filed a federal lawsuit against Madigan’s Democratic Party organization, saying her decision to report the behavior cost her the ability to advance her career.

Following that ouster, Madigan also removed longtime political lieutenant Shaw Decremer, a lobbyist whom a female lawmaker accused of abusive behavior.

Madigan later released a partial list of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints he says his office has investigated during the past five years. It included general descriptions of nine cases, including one complaint in which “a staffer accused a legislator of harassment, retaliation, and failure to pay wages.”

The Tribune later identified that lawmaker as Rep. Litesa Wallace of Rockford, who was running for lieutenant governor in the March primary election.

Lawmakers have formed various working groups to try to craft legislation to address sexual harassment issues, and this week they began newly required training aimed at preventing harassment and discrimination.

Also Wednesday, the House approved legislation sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, to prevent taxpayer money from being used to pay sexual harassment settlements.

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