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Doug Finke

Illinois Senate approves Equal Rights Amendment

State might become 37th to OK measure

State might become 37th to OK measure

Illinois senators voted Wednesday to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment that protects women’s rights.

With no debate, the Senate voted 43-12 to adopt the amendment. Springfield-area senators Sam McCann of Plainview and Bill Brady of Bloomington voted against the amendment. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, voted for it.

The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the state has an opportunity for “rectifying a wrong that we did not ratify [the amendment] in Illinois.”

Illinois failed to ratify the amendment by 1982, the deadline set for the required 38 states to approve the amendment. Only 35 states approved the amendment at the time.

However, proponents never gave up and said the ratification deadline, that was extended once, can be extended again.

Nevada approved the amendment last year, making it the 36th state to ratify. Illinois could become the 37th state if the House also approves it. Both the House and Senate have voted in favor of the amendment over the years, but both have not done it in the same year.

Steans said the recent focus on sexual harassment issues has energized women and put renewed focus on adopting the amendment.

“Women around the country have been marching, demonstrating, pushing back on concerns that laws and policies may undermine our rights,” she said.

“I think voting to ratify the ERA helps give voice to these women and say that we’re with you, we hear you and we agree.”

Before the floor vote, the bipartisan Senate Women’s Caucus, comprised of the 17 women members of the Illinois Senate, announced their support for the amendment. Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, was the only female senator to vote against it.

Steans acknowledged that since the Illinois Constitution contained an equal rights amendment, ratifying the federal version won’t mean much change here.

“Other states don’t have that same protection, and we need this nationally,” she said.

Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said it is better to have the U.S. Constitution contain the amendment as further protection to any attempt to erode women’s rights.

Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, a co-chair of the caucus, said she also thinks more women being involved in the political process is spurring efforts to ratify the amendment.

“In my district, I have seen women become much more engaged in the political, policy process,” she said.

“They are more distinctly than ever directly impacted. I think some of what’s been going on around us, certainly with the sexual harassment issue, women are finding their voice in a way that they haven’t before.”

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