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Wake Forest board won't ask lawmakers to ratify ERA

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WAKE FOREST — There did not appear to be an appetite among the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to ask state lawmakers to become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Board members held an informal discussion about the ERA in response to a request from citizen David Bland, who had asked the board at its last meeting to adopt a resolution urging the state to ratify the amendment.

One commissioner, Liz Simpers, voiced support for the ERA, which states "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Commissioner Bridget Wall-Lennon asked if it would "enhance what's already on the books" for women's rights but otherwise did not weigh in.

The other commissioners said they did not support the ERA or else did not feel it was appropriate for a town board to get involved with the U.S. Constitution.

"I don't have an issue supporting equal rights, I just think this is above our pay grade," Commissioner Brian Pate said. "I think it should be looked at at a state level and a national level. I don't think it's anything for this board to take on, personally."

Congress passed the ERA in 1972, but to become part of the Constitution, 38 states must individually ratify it. Last year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA.

Bills introduced in the N.C. General Assembly this year would make North Carolina that 38th state. But even if approved by the legislature, the ERA wouldn't take effect - Congress in 1972 set a 10-year deadline for getting to the 38 state mark.

Bland had asked the town to include in its resolution a request that Congress extend the deadline.

"Woman in our state represent over 52 percent of our population, and even though most of us — I hope — say we want to treat the female equal, that they are equal and all the rest of the good stuff we want to say about it, the truth of the matter is, they do not have the legal stance that you and I as males have," Bland said at the Sept. 17 meeting.

Rep. Terence Everitt, a legislator representing northeast Wake County, also spoke at that meeting. He said many towns and counties in the state have passed resolutions supporting ratifying the ERA, and that these resolutions are helpful in pressuring state lawmakers.

The current ERA-ratifying bill, House Bill 271, was introduced March 5 and remains in the rules committee, Everitt said. It has 55 co-sponsors.

"My concern is it's just one more law that overshadows all the laws that are there that aren't being used properly as it is," Commissioner Anne Reeve said at Tuesday's meeting. She added that the government "can't just give people stuff" and that women should have to work to be seen as equals.

"I was told one time that I was lucky to have a child because I was a female in an all-man's business," Reeve said. "But I didn't take that as a negative. I just worked a little harder to get to the point that I was on the same level."

She added that as a woman, she has never been discriminated against.

The League of Women Voters, which supports the ERA, claims the amendment would give teeth to equal-pay laws and give domestic violence victims more legal protections.

"If this amendment were strictly about pay issues, equal pay for equal work, I can support it," Commissioner Greg Harrington said. "But I feel it would go much, much deeper than that as people look further into it, so I can't support it."

Questioning the other commissioners, Simpers said she didn't see a downside to passing a resolution.

"Just because a system might be broken now, we still have to keep trying," she said.

Simpers added that she respected her peers' opinions. No vote was taken.

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