Equal pay measures advance

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK --  State Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, left, and State Rep. Walter Leger III, D-New Orleans, confer Thursday during debate of Murray's bill for equal pay.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- State Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, left, and State Rep. Walter Leger III, D-New Orleans, confer Thursday during debate of Murray's bill for equal pay.

A Senate-passed measure requiring equal pay for women who work in state government cleared a state House committee Thursday.

The House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee approved Senate Bill 153. The original bill seeking to ensure women are paid the same as men for comparable jobs would have applied to the private sector, as well but was changed on the Senate floor to apply only to women in the state government workforce.

“The proponents of this bill really do believe it should apply to all employers but they thought this was a good first step,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans and sponsor of Senate Bill 153, the Equal Pay for Women Act. He made no attempt to change it back to statewide application.

The same committee also advanced House Concurrent Resolution 154, which calls for a study committees to look at all aspects of the equal pay issue in Louisiana.

State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, said among others things the committee would delve into “what has created the situation” in Louisiana where women’s pay is sorely behind that of men who are doing the same work.

Murray testified that Louisiana ranks 49th in the U.S. when it comes to equal pay for women. Only Wyoming is worse, he said.

“It’s an important thing to do not just for women but for families in this state,” said Murray.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said Baton Rouge women are being paid 50 to 60 percent less than men. “It’s unfortunate that we have to have something like this to make people realize,” she said.

SB153 is how determinations are going to be made that women are not receiving equal pay for equal work because they are female.

“What’s going to be the proof?” asked state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs.

Murray said the Human Rights Commission will investigate complaints and render a decision based on facts provided. “They have to prove that the allegations are true” and then an employee has the right to file a lawsuit based on the facts, he said.

“Who pays for the lawsuit?” Hodges asked.

Murray said the employee challenging would be responsible.

New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said it is long past time for women to receive equal pay.

“While the bill does not go as far as I would like it to go I think it’s a good starting point,” Hedge-Morrell said. “In Louisiana a lot of women are the head of households, so it’s important they receive equal pay for equal work.”

Ann Taylor, representing the American Association of University Women in Louisiana, said Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi are all doing much better than Louisiana.

“If women are paid unfairly, they will have lower pensions, lower Social Security” in their later years, Taylor said. “This really is a family issue.”

SB153 and HCR154 now head to the Louisiana House floor for debate.