Democrats call for ERA, pregnant prisoner shackling protections, sex harassment reform
Female lawmakers announce three bills, including a long-running effort to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.Posted — Updated
It takes three-fourths of the states, 38, to amend the Constitution. Democrats called on North Carolina to put the effort over the finish line, but there's a major legal disagreement over whether that would really be the case. The congressional deadline for states to ratify this amendment passed in 1982.
"We think it's inhumane and unconstitutional," Rep. Bobbie Richardson, D-Franklin, said of the shackling. "I doubt too many women in labor are going to jump up and run anywhere."
The state has said 81 pregnant prisoners gave birth in the prison system last year.
Legislators said every female Democrat in the General Assembly plans to sign on to a measure changing the process for reporting sexual harassment, which currently requires people to report problems to their superiors, or to leadership in the House or Senate – House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton, called the process ludicrous, convoluted, easily swept under the rug and "totally ineffective." Her intern, Lucy Russell, a rising junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the current process is "designed to keep victims from coming forward." The new proposal would have confidential reports go to a human resources employee.
Russell called it "a transparent path to justice."
With heightened attention now to sexual harassment, Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, said now is the time to make these pushes, despite limited prospects for the bills in a legislature controlled by Republicans.
"Women's stories are resonating with the general public," Butler said.
As for the ERA, its prospects seem slim during this legislative session, but it may become an issue in the November general election, when Democrats hope to break the GOP's legislative super-majority.
"It's the right thing to do, and it's past time we did it," McKissick said.
Opponents make a number of arguments against the amendment, including that it's unnecessary due to existing constitutional protections, that it won't actually address the wage gap and that it would overturn various protections in existing law that are tailored to women.
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