By Marie Albiges
In a last-ditch effort to force a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment during the final week of session, Democratic delegates -- encouraged by advocates -- attempted to finagle a rule change Thursday that goes against a longstanding tradition in the General Assembly.
And they almost accomplished it.
Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, was the lone Republican to vote for the rule change that would've allowed all 100 delegates to cast their vote on whether to ratify the amendment.
Ironically -- given how Yancey won his seat representing Newport News after his name was pulled out of a bowl following a 2017 tie election -- his vote on the rule change forced a 50-50 tie. That meant it failed, so there was no House vote on the ERA.
The vote was followed by cries of "Shame on Virginia" from ERA advocates sitting in the House gallery.
Advocates wanting to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA have spent much of the 46-day session in or around the Capitol, their signs getting steadily more creative and targeted to GOP leadership who have blocked a House vote.
The ERA resolution says Americans can't be denied the civil and legal rights on the basis of sex.
But the deadline for states to ratify it as an amendment into the U.S. Constitution expired in 1982, which means that even if Virginia's resolution was approved by both chambers, Congress would have to act to reopen the ratification process.
Opponents such as the Family Foundation and the Virginia Society for Human Life were also in the gallery Thursday. They've argued the ERA isn't necessary and would invalidate any laws that recognize the inherent differences between men and women, such as the military draft excluding women and the need for separate bathrooms and sports teams.
Advocates and Democratic lawmakers knew forcing a House vote on the ERA -- let alone winning its passage -- was a long shot. But part of the goal of the last-ditch push was to make Republican lawmakers, especially those in swing districts like Yancey's, cast a vote one way or the other. Some GOP delegates have said they support the ERA, but they haven't had to vote because the speaker has kept the bill off the floor.
In a series of chess moves, House Democrats, led by Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, filed legislation to supersede the traditional way a bill or resolution gets to the full floor. The Republican majority leader, Todd Gilbert, countered that move with legislation of his own that said Ayala would need a two-thirds majority vote to change the rules.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, had another idea. He put in a request to allow a resolution -- not just a bill, as the rules currently stand -- to be heard by a simple majority regardless of how a committee voted on it. He called it a technical correction, but the resolution failed 49-51.
Republicans opposed any rule changes, saying those aren't designed to advance pieces of legislation and are an "affront" to protocol in the House.
They've also spent the week reiterating the beliefs of opponents that ratifying the ERA would mean unrestricted access to abortions, because any government policy that restricts access to abortion would be deemed discriminatory on the basis of sex.
Getting a recorded vote is why people like Kati Hornung haven't stopped showing up with signs in the Capitol, even after the resolution was killed in a House subcommittee.
She wanted to see if Republicans like Yancey -- who gave an impassioned speech about supporting the ERA on the House floor a month ago -- would put some actions behind their words of support.
He and several others have said they support ratification and signed their names onto the ERA resolutions, either this year or in previous years, but they haven't had a chance to cast their vote.
"You have to wonder why folks would copatron a bill and then not vote on it," Simon said.
Hornung said now that the ERA is dead -- at least for the year -- her VaRatifyERA campaign will be lying low until after primaries.
Her plan after that?
"Shape a chamber that will get the ERA passed."
(c)2019 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)