BY ANDREW DeMILLO
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A renewed effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution failed before an Arkansas state Senate panel Tuesday, after opponents said they believed the move would have unintended consequences ranging from mandatory coed bathrooms to government-funded abortions.
The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected the attempt to ratify the amendment, which states that the equality of rights "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." The Republican-controlled panel rejected the resolution on a voice vote.
"I am floored that in 2013 that time hasn't changed enough that we are enshrined in our constitution," Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, told the panel as she urged lawmakers to approve her resolution. Dozens of supporters of Elliott's amendment wearing pink and white "Trust Women" buttons packed the old Supreme Court chamber at the Capitol for the hearing.
Arkansas was one of 15 states that had not passed the amendment when the deadline passed in 1982. But supporters of the amendment say it could still be added to the Constitution if more states ratify it, noting that the 27th Amendment was ratified in 1992 more than 200 years after it was first proposed. That amendment forces lawmakers to wait one election before raising their salaries.
Past attempts to ratify the amendment have similarly failed before legislative committees in 2007 and 2009. Opponents echoed their past concerns that the amendment was written so broadly that it was have a host of unintended consequences.
"If you say there is total equality between the two, then what you're really saying is we're not going to distinguish in any way between male and female," Jerry Cox, the head of the conservative Arkansas Family Council, told the panel.
The latest attempt on ERA came during a session where Republicans, who won control of the Legislature in November, have successfully pushed for enacting some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Elliott said she wasn't motivated to propose her resolution because of those laws, and said she hoped the Legislature would eventually ratify the amendment.
"I want us to be on the right side of history with this," Elliott said. "I don't want us to be the state that never stepped up to do this."
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