Senate panel set aside “Equal Pay” measure favored by business community

A Louisiana Senate committee rejected Wednesday a business and industry-backed bill that sought to shift gears in the equal pay debate.

The bill, supported by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, faced opposition from the Legislative Agenda for Women, who claimed that it didn’t go as far as Democrat-backed bills that have sought to bridge the wage gap.

“This bill will not accomplish its goal,” said Julie Schwam Harris, co-chair of Legislative Agenda for Women. “It’s going to confuse and distract ... The goal of equal pay would be hurt by the passage of this bill.”

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 4-3 to defer House Bill 956.

Another bill, Senate Bill 334, this session sought to make intentional gender-based pay discrimination illegal for private businesses. Louisiana already bars intentional discrimination against state employees. SB334 has gained no traction in the Legislature and languished on the House calendar after it received the backing of the same Senate committee.

Sponsored by Kenner Republican Rep. Julie Stokes, HB956 sought instead to stress the need for equal pay and restate existing federal gender discrimination law but provided no new teeth to enforce pay equality.

Stokes said she disagreed with provisions in the earlier bill that would have criminalized unintentional discrimination.

“I think that’s treading on dangerous water,” she said. “Some people just do better work.”

Women in Louisiana make, on average, about 67 cents for every dollar men make, making it one of the worst states for pay disparity.

Jim Patterson, LABI vice president, said he worried that stricter legislation would open businesses up to costly lawsuits without proof.

“We do believe this is the appropriate way to deal with this,” he said of Stokes’ bill.

Voting FOR HB956 (3): State Sens. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan; J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Voting AGAINST HB956 (4): State Sens. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport; Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe; and Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.