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Equal Pay Bill Passes Full Senate

Louisiana’s Senate approved a bill requiring private businesses to provide equal pay for equal work, and setting up a mechanism for enforcement.

“This bill is important to our wives, our mothers, and our daughters. But it’s equally important to our fathers and sons,” said New Orleans Senator J. P. Morrell. “The message we’re sending to people around this state is that we believe that people should be paid equal pay for equal work.”

The debate over Senator Edwin Murray’s SB 219 was fierce, with the business lobby pushing lawmakers to vote no.

“All we’re doing with this bill is we are putting one more little nail in the coffin of businesses across the state,” said Senator Jack Donahue.

Senator A.G. Crowe tried playing the federal fear factor card.

“If we do pass this bill, this will – in effect – expand the power of the Human Rights Commission -- an arm of the federal government – to go after any business at any given time,” Crowe declared.

The bill does empower the state Human Rights Commission to investigate complaints of pay inequality, and the bill’s author made that clear.

“Senator Crowe, the Human Rights Commission that you keep saying is a federal commission is called the Louisiana Human Rights Commission, because we created it,” Murray responded.

Supporters of the bill frequently referred to studies that have shown Louisiana has the biggest pay gap in the United States, with women making an average of 66 cents for each dollar men earn.

“I hear a statistic,” Senator Conrad Appel said with disdain. “I’ve read numerous reports that disclaim that statistic or disavow that statistic.”

Senator Murray responded with specifics.

“Assumption Parish hits bottom, at 45 cents on average; with Natchitoches, Acadia and Franklin all – on average –below 55 cents for women’s earnings compared to men, “ Murray listed. “Now if those numbers don’t get it, I just don’t understand what you need to hear.”

Senator Karen Carter Peterson, one of only four females in Louisiana’s senate, added, “Wage discrimination is real.”

What might have been most influential in getting the 21-16 favorable vote for the bill were the reminders that voters are watching.

“The majority of our voters are women,” Morrell reminded his peers.

“And we have elections this fall,” Peterson added.

The bill now moves to the House.