By LAUREN LANGLOIS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bill that would prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from unintentionally paying women less than men for doing the same job will pass to the full Senate after receiving a committee's support Wednesday.
The measure by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, received the backing of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Current state law already prohibits employers from intentionally paying women less than men for the same job. But Julie Schwam Harris, with Legislative Agenda for Women, said employers can unintentionally discriminate for a number of reasons, sometimes when women are stereotyped as second earners rather than breadwinners.
Women working for state agencies are already protected against unintentional discrimination under the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act, which was passed last year. On Wednesday, the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee also backed a measure by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, that would expand the act to cover local government workers.
Both bills now move to the Senate floor for consideration. They would then move to the House for debate.
Harris said the new bill prohibiting private businesses in Louisiana from unintentionally paying unequal wages would require employers to examine their pay scale to make sure it is based on legitimate business reasons, such as merit or seniority, and not gender.
Peterson said gender-pay inequity hurts the morale and welfare of Louisianans.
"It is an issue of fundamental fairness," she said.
She said a woman in Louisiana earns about 67 cents for every $1 a man earns. Supporters said the gap is even bigger for minority women. Peterson asked the all-male committee to think of their wives, daughters and moms when considering that gap.
"Why is that fair?" she asked.
Supporters said Louisiana has had the second-largest gender pay gap in the country for four years.
Yvonne Mitchell-Grubb, with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, said unequal pay not only hurts women, but their families as well since many women are breadwinners.
Opponents of the proposal included business organizations, but they did not testify before the committee.
After the hearing, Kristi Williams, with the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry, said LABI opposed the measure.
"We believe there's already adequate protection in state and federal law," she said.