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Equal Rights Bill Faces Baffling Opposition in Minnesota House

Jimmy Carter signs extension of ERA ratification in 1978.

Jimmy Carter signs extension of ERA ratification in 1978.

Equal rights for women have become an unexpectedly difficult issue for Minnesota lawmakers to agree on.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits gender discrimination, passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and headed to the states for their approval. It ultimately fell three states short of ratification, and what should have been history continues to be a kicking controversy today.

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Minnesota ratified the ERA in 1973. But because there was a deadline placed on the amendment, it's null and void. Now bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate as well as a long train of liberal and conservative women want to send a message to Congress that Minnesota backs the ERA.

The only thing standing in the way: leadership in the state House.

Two Republican legislators, Reps. Bob Dettmer and Cindy Pugh, originally signed on to co-author a proposal to ask Congress to remove the sunset clause on the ERA. Within 24 hours, GOP leaders asked the two to rescind that support. The bill was then sent to the House Rules Committee, where it's languished without a hearing for about two months under majority leader Joyce Peppin.

"This is a pretty innocuous bill," says Betty Folliard of ERA MN. "It's about pay and equity, violence against women, pregnancy discrimination and eliminating unfair laws that negatively impact both women and men."

It's not entirely clear why Peppin hasn't held a hearing on the bill, but House DFL leader Rep. Paul Thissen wrote a letter to her on Tuesday asking for some kind of action.

"It's difficult for me to understand why a resolution that is basically saying women should have equal rights and that should be in our Constitution, why they would oppose that," Thissen says. "I do think the fact that the two members of the Republican Party who were on the bill and are now off the bill does suggest that the Republican caucus, or at least the leadership, is in opposition to it."

Thissen suspects that opposition stems from the old abortion controversy. Abortion rights, however, were established by the Supreme Court in 1973 on the basis of privacy. The ERA is all about civil rights.

The House's deadline for policy issues is today, so bills must move out of the House and Senate's policy committees or they can't move ahead this session. However, the Rules Committee can still exempt bills from the deadline, so there's a chance the ERA initiative won't die this year.

Peppin could not be reached for comment.

"It's gonna be ultimately a decision of Rep. Peppin and the Republican leadership," Thissen says. "They won't kill the bill for procedural reasons, but I also haven't seen any indication they're interested in moving forward on it."

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