Capitol Views: Louisiana equal pay measure clears committee

    A Senate committee approved legislation today that would rename the Louisiana Equal Pay For Women Act and expand it to cover practically every classification of private business with 20 or more employees. Paying women less than men, whether intentional or unintentional, and regardless of the employee’s willingness to be paid lower wages, would be disallowed under the proposed act.

    SB 219 by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, would create the new Louisiana Equal Pay Act and would cover the rights of male workers as well. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee saw several business groups file opposition to the bill, authored by a sitting member, but still passed it unanimously. It now moves to the Senate floor, where similar measures have died in recent years.

    Murray testified that he had just learned that Louisiana had dropped to the bottom of the list of U.S. states in terms of pay equality. “This is real statement for equal pay for equal work,” he said of his bill.

    No one spoke against the bill, but Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said he was compelled to testify on behalf of his four granddaughters. He said he shouldn’t need to tell them that one day they’re only going to make “two-thirds” of what their male counterparts bring home. “How do I look at them and tell them that every day it’s important what you do in school?” Reine asked.

    —In other action today, the committee rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed Louisiana’s citizenry to collect signatures to place proposed law changes on a ballot.

    “I just want to give the power to the people,” said Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, author of SB 201.

    Gallot said he was challenged by a constituent to bring the bill. Variations of the same idea have been floated, and voted down, in the past. Former Gov. Mike Foster, as a state senator, tried to get it into law, as did late Sen. Ken Hollis, Gallot said.

    “If the Legislature won’t stand up to the governor, then maybe the people should be given the power to put an initiative on the ballot,” he added.

    The bill was still in a somewhat conceptual phase when presented, and Gallot invited the committee to build it up before he had an amendment attached creating a signature threshold of 5% to 8% for certain electorates. Numerous business and union groups opposed the proposed amendment.

    “Would you like to voluntarily defer this and work on it for a while?” asked Senate and Governmental Affairs Chairman Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales.

    Gallot replied, “I think I’d like to seal my fate today.”

    And the committee did just that, without objection.

    Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. He reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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