With a vote Gov. John Bel Edwards considers to be a good start for two bills crucial to his legislative agenda, a Louisiana Senate committee today approved legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage and enforce pay equality across gender gaps.
Edwards, in a rare move for a standing governor, personally testified before the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations where he promoted the bills as fair and good for family values. The bills would help lift women and children out of poverty, he said.
“This light increase directly helps the problem of childhood poverty,” Edwards said of the proposal to the state’s minimum wage. “Most of the minimum wage workers in Louisiana are women, and when you help mothers, you help children.”
The minimum wage bill, authored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, would set Louisiana’s minimum wage at $8 per hour starting in 2017 and then increase it again to $8.50 per hour in 2018.
Louisiana currently does not require employers to pay a set minimum wage. Instead, businesses follow the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Some businesses groups and owners testified in opposition of the minimum wage bill, saying it would cause a “ripple effect” that could result in lost jobs and earnings.
Dawn Starns, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the bill puts small businesses “back in the fray” of the state’s budget problems.
Members of the business community also spoke out against the equal pay bill, which was authored by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.
The bill would require all employers to pay equally for the same work regardless of an employee’s gender. It also prevents employers from keeping salary and other compensation secret from employees and permits an employee to sue if an employer refuses to pay equal wages.
Starns said the bill was unnecessary and did not accomplish anything previous legislation did not.
Women’s salaries in Louisiana are on average 68% of men’s, Morrell said, making the state’s gender gap the worst in the nation. He said it is hoped the possibility of litigation would give his bill “teeth,” whereas previous attempts have been “toothless.”
“If the law on the books was sufficient, we wouldn’t be here today,” Edwards said.
Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, raised concerns about privacy issues arising from the bill’s requirement that employers disclose workers salaries and other compensation. Morrell said he would be happy to consider an amendment keeping that information out of public record, but no amendment was offered at the meeting.
Earlier in the day, a bill that would re-establish the Louisiana Equal Pay Commission, a body charged with studying pay inequalities across gender and race lines, was deferred until a later meeting by the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.