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Fla. Democratic Women: 'We Continue To Be Under Assault In This State'

Democratic women from all over Florida came to the state Capitol on Tuesday to let lawmakers know  they’re watching what’s happening this session. The women spoke in support of Florida’s ratifying a federal amendment outlawing gender discrimination.

Just before lunch time on Tuesday, the rotunda in front of the House chambers was packed with women waving bright-colored posters. “Pink Slip Tricky Rick” and “Stop the War On Women” were a couple of the slogans they’d written as messages to Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

Samantha Hope-Herring, a legislative liaison from the Democratic Women’s Club of Bay County, said, “We’re here and we’re paying attention to what’s going on. We may not have a majority, but we’re taking note, and we vote.”

Hope-Herring was holding a piece of purple poster board that she designed. “It has our message on it, obviously, ‘Women Are Watching,’ and then it has an arrow pointing to a machine gun that says ‘Control This,’ and then another image, of a woman’s silhouette, and it says, ‘Not This.” The message being, to control the things that are killing people, not women. We take direct offense to that,” she said.

Democratic Women’s Club members from all over Florida were visiting on the day a House Committee was workshopping a bill that would ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment would put into the U.S. Constitution that no state law could discriminate based on gender.

Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) is sponsoring the bill. She said, “We’re gonna push even harder and next year, hopefully, we’re gonna get a vote and move Florida to be one of the three states that need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Since it was introduced decades ago, the amendment has been ratified by all but 15 state legislatures. Many legal scholars believe it would still be valid if three more states ratify it. There’s some disagreement about whether it’s past its expiration.  

Harriett Myers, from Bay County, said, the country still very much needs this kind of amendment.

“This would give us a lot more power to make it fair for men, too. Because there are men coming along that are saying, ‘I’m being discriminated against because I’m a man.’ The way that ERA is written, it doesn’t say ‘women,’ it says, ‘on account of sex,’” Myers said.

The future of the ERA may be in question, but another of Berman’s bills, this one banning discrimination against pregnant women, unanimously passed a committee on Tuesday. A Senate version of the bill is also moving toward a floor vote. Berman talked about the pregnancy-discrimination ban with the Democratic women: “It’s sad that we need it, but we have to do this, and hopefully we’ll get this done,” she said. “But, despite the good things that have happened, we continue to be under assault here in this state.”

Berman was followed by Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman, Allison Tant. The women cheered loudly as she called for things like expanding Medicaid, reinstating the Sunday before elections as an early-voting day, and opposing the so-called “parent trigger,” which would allow parents to convert failing public schools into charters.

Rep. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) also addressed the women. “In 1975, there was one woman in the Senate and only 12 members in the House, for a total of only 8 percent of women representation in the Florida Legislature,” she said.

Today, women make up 25 percent of Florida lawmakers, although, they make up more than half of the state population. Of the women in the Legislature, half are Democrats, and half are Republicans.

Cruz said, “We come from different parties, but we still have the common thread of bringing a unique perspective of a woman to a male-dominated Florida Legislature.”

Cruz asked the crowd to mentor young women and encourage them to get into public service.