Delaware legislators file Equal Rights Amendment ahead of January return

Delaware State News | by Matt Bittle

DOVER — Delaware could have an Equal Rights Amendment in a matter of weeks.

Lawmakers on Thursday filed House Bill 1, a proposal that would add to the state constitution a line reading, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.”

An identical measure passed the General Assembly in June but did not become law because constitutional amendments must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies.

The 150th General Assembly returns Jan. 8, and the House is expected to run the bill that month.

“With this legislation, the state is saying that we value equality, and we value a vibrant Delaware where men and women are on an even playing field. We are saying to our young girls that your opportunities to succeed are not limited,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat who sponsored both bills, said in a statement.

“We’ve learned from the women advocates and suffragettes who have come before us, fighting tirelessly for equal rights, and we have the chance to honor their legacy. It’s time for Delaware to make history and set an example for years to come by enshrining the Equal Rights Amendment in our Constitution.”

The version passed last year faced some initial difficulties, failing to garner the needed two-thirds supermajority in the Senate due to Republican fears the measure would bar simple separation of the sexes, require the state to fund abortions and would apply to private entities.

After negotiations, Democrats agreed to make minor changes to clarify the proposal’s intent, and it passed with only Republicans voting against it.

The federal government attempted to amend the Constitution to prevent any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, but although the measure passed Congress in the early 1970s, the proposal was ratified by only 35 state legislatures, three shy of the number needed.

Delaware was the third state to approve the federal Equal Rights Amendment.

“We’ve come so far, but we’re not done yet,” Sen. Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown Democrat who is the prime Senate sponsor of both bills, said in a statement. “In a few weeks we’ll have a clear mandate to reaffirm the message we sent last spring: women have waited too long, endured too much, and fought too hard to have equal rights under the law delayed or denied. I’m grateful for all of my colleagues’ work and support on this step forward for our state and am looking forward to getting this job done.”

Legislators also filed several other bills Thursday, most notably two involving income tax hikes. Introduced by Rep. John Kowalko, a Newark Democrat, both measures would add two new brackets, taxing income between $125,000 and $250,001 at 7.1 percent and at 7.85 percent for income of $250,001 or more, while one would also reduce itemized deductions for wealthier individuals.

The state’s current top tax bracket is $60,001 and up, with a rate of 6.6 percent.

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