One weird trick advocates hope will get a floor vote on the ERA. (Parliamentarians hate her!)

By: - February 14, 2019 4:57 pm

Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, spoke at a rally in 2019 on the steps of the Capitol in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Republican leaders in the House of Delegates are trying to block an obscure legislative maneuver by Del. Hala Ayala, D-Woodbridge, to force a floor vote on the Equal Rights Amendment.

She filed a proposed change to House rules yesterday that, if approved by a simple majority, would allow the full body to vote on the ratification resolution despite the fact that it never made it out of subcommittee. (More on how House leadership can bottle up popular legislation in subcommittees here.)

House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, shot back with his own proposed rule change that would essentially preempt Ayala’s by raising the threshold for approval to a two-thirds majority vote.

The dueling parliamentary measures set up a slow-motion debate that will play out over five days.

That’s because under Rule 81, which dictates how rules are adopted and changed, any such proposal “shall lie on the speakers table for five days and be read by the House each day during that time.”

At the end of the five days, a vote is taken.

Based on the way each is written, it sounds like whichever is read and voted on first wins, assuming both sides have the votes they think they have.

At least that’s how Democrats understand the situation.

“There was a little bit of a race to make sure we got our rules changes in on time so that they’d be read the same day and we could figure out whose would take precedence over whose,” said Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who (bear with me) proposed a third rules change after he caught wind of Gilbert’s.

Simon says his rule change wouldn’t be affected by the one Gilbert put in, but would still open the door to a simple majority sending the ERA to the floor for a full vote.

Gilbert called the maneuvers an unprecedented attempt to skirt procedure.

“That is a very unorthodox and very unfortunate way to try to drive a specific agenda,” he said. “And we just don’t do that in House rules and my rule is intended to solidify that longstanding practice.”

Ayala countered that if Gilbert takes exception to her proposed rule change, she  takes “exception to him not giving me my equality” and called his rule “hostile toward women.”

Simon said the approach may be unprecedented in terms of modern policy and practice in the House, but argued the current legislative stalemate is also unprecedented “because we have an opportunity to be the 38th and final state to ratify the equal rights amendment.”

“We’ve heard members of both parties say they want the opportunity to vote on the floor,” he said. “It’s not like one party is trying to use this as a power move. This is something that’s had bipartisan support.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.