The morning after the 2022 election, Betty Folliard held an executive meeting of the group ERA Minnesota in her home. The meeting was part celebration, part call to action.
The midterms swept Democrats into complete control of Minnesota government, in part over anger stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court's removal of a constitutional right to an abortion in June. Now her group needed to seize the moment to rally Minnesota lawmakers to secure more rights in the state Constitution.
"People woke up to the idea that, 'oh, I see laws are fickle.' Even federal laws and statutes and rules are fickle. They come and go with the prevailing political winds," said Folliard. "This was critical for people to understand because we've been saying it for years."
A former legislator-turned-activist, Folliard has been pushing for years to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Minnesota, which would add language to the Constitution that says equal rights cannot be denied on account of gender.
Despite a 1972 vote in the U.S. House and Senate to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, not enough states voted to ratify it by the deadline in 1982. Now neither the U.S. nor the Minnesota constitution has an amendment addressing gender equality.
The ERA's supporters argue it would apply a more rigid standard of legal scrutiny in cases involving gender discrimination, but it's failed to gain traction in the divided Legislature. Both chambers must approve a constitutional amendment in order to get it on the ballot.
"Now we have a pro-choice House, a pro-choice Senate, a governor who is pro-choice and all three bodies have just a multiplicity of legislators who want the Equal Rights Amendment to become a reality," she said.
Something else happened on Nov. 8: Nevadans overwhelmingly voted to pass their own version of the Equal Rights Amendment that went further than most, prohibiting the infringement of rights based on "race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin."
Folliard said the Nevada language will be introduced in Minnesota next session, and she's already secured bill sponsors — Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, and Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul. The group is also drafting a federal resolution.
The timing is significant. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the first Equal Rights Amendment proposed in Congress, just three years after the 19th Amendment secured most women the right to vote.
Folliard said a vote must happen this year because her organization needs all the time it can get to campaign statewide to pass the amendment on the 2024 ballot. In Minnesota, a nonvote for a constitutional amendment counts as a "no" vote.
The work is already beginning. ERA Minnesota is holding an event at the Urban Growler in St. Paul on Thursday and will be at the Capitol for a rally on Jan. 3, the first day of the session.