CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia House Democrats failed on Monday to stop the progression of a Republican majority-backed resolution to rescind the state’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The state Senate moved quickly Friday to approve the resolution, declaring that the Equal Rights Amendment — the constitutional ban on sex discrimination — expired in 1979. All 23 Senate Republicans were sponsors of the measure, including three women. It passed on a voice vote without debate or discussion and was sent to the House for consideration.
House Minority Whip Del. Shawn Fluharty motioned Monday to reject the Senate message and block the resolution from being sent to the House Rules Committee, calling it “disgusting” and “a stain” on the state of West Virginia.
“It’s a stain on our state, a stain on our country for us to even be taking this up. Yet, here we are today moving this forward in the House. On what day? Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day, West Virginia women. Happy Valentine’s Day: The West Virginia Legislature thinks you don’t count,” he said. “That’s the message we’re sending … It’s disgusting.”
“What we need is a message that we’re not going to tolerate this crap, that we’re not going to play these games, that we’re going to get back to business that actually helps West Virginians,” he continued.
Republican Del. Paul Espinosa said the resolution should go through the committee process so lawmakers can better understand and properly debate it, a sentiment echoed by fellow Republican Del. Dianna Graves.
“I also believe in the equal rights of women, and to me, it’s almost a little disgusting that in this day and age, we still have to even debate the merits of that,” she said. “Be that as it may, that’s not what this resolution is really about at the core.”
Graves said ratification of the Equal Protection Act had a time limit on it, which was expired.
“I happen to think that the way we craft legislation at the federal or the state level, it matters if you put time limits in it,” she said. “I think that we should allow it to go through the committee process and not be diverted.”
Fluharty’s motion was blocked by Republicans 75-18.
West Virginia ratified the amendment in April 1972, the same year that Congress sent it to the states. States were given seven years to ratify, then the deadline was extended to 1982. The amendment wasn’t approved by the required three-quarters of states before the deadline.
In January 2020, Virginia lawmakers approved the amendment, becoming the 38th and final state needed. But the Justice Department said in an opinion that month that the vote was too late. In March 2021 a federal judge agreed, dismissing a lawsuit filed by three Democratic state attorneys general that had sought to force the federal government to recognize Virginia’s vote.
The West Virginia Senate resolution, which was introduced Thursday, declared that the state’s approval expired in 1979. In giving a description of the measure, Jefferson County Republican Patricia Rucker said it “just clarifies that the resolution that was passed by the Legislature is no longer valid.”
In 2020, the Democratic-led U.S. House voted to remove the 1982 deadline for the amendment’s ratification. The measure has not advanced in the evenly divided U.S. Senate.
On Monday, Democratic Del. Barbara Fleischauer spoke in support of Fluharty’s motion, calling the resolution “a slap in the face to all the people who worked for equal rights. ”
“This is trying to make a technicality out of something that is basic that all people including women should be treated equally,” she said. “This is a snide, slap, procedural, technical argument.”
AP reporter John Raby contributed to this report.