House Committee Kills Senate-Backed Equal Pay Proposal

BATON ROUGE (AP) — For the third time in recent weeks, a House committee on Thursday voted down a proposal requiring workers — regardless of gender — to be compensated equally for similar work.

         That, supporters of the equal pay bill say, ensures Louisiana will continue to have the worst pay gap between men and women in the nation.

         "I think it is time for our state to do something progressive and move forward," said Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the Senate-backed bill.

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         But Republicans on the House labor committee were not persuaded. They voted down the bill 8-5 without debating the substance of the proposal.

         Women in Louisiana make just 66 cents to every dollar earned by a man, according to equal pay advocates. That number plummets further for black and Latino women, who each make less than 55 cents for every dollar made by a man, their statistics show.

         Murray's bill would have prohibited a "distinction in compensation" because of an employee's gender. It outlined a course for legal action for workers who claim to be underpaid.

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         The provisions would apply only to employers with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time employees. It allowed for different wage rates to be paid based on seniority, merit, production quality, experience, education and training level.

         Republicans on the committee have previously argued that similar proposals would open a floodgate of lawsuits, penalizing employers who didn't realize they were paying women less.

         Meanwhile, business groups have staunchly opposed similar measures aimed at pay equality. They say existing laws protect employees from intentional pay discrimination.

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         But Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, called the laws cited by business groups "facades" and suggested they do little to remedy a serious problem.

         "Why is business so against giving equal pay for equal work?" said Smith. "On the surface you may say, 'Yeah (a law is) on the books.' But there is nothing on the books that addresses the issue of a … pay gap between men and women for people that are doing the same job."

         Earlier in the session, the committee voted down two similar bills mandating equal pay for women.

         At the time, Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Republican Legislative Delegation, said he hopes market forces would address the pay gap.

         – by AP Reporter Brian Slodysko

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