One gender wage gap bill remains in Senate

By Ramsey Scott

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — A bill to ensure women and men are paid equally in state agencies and in companies using state grant money failed late Monday night by one vote.

House Bill 84 was voted down by the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee on a 3-2 vote. The bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, would have studied and worked to address wage equality for state employees.

HB 84 would also have included programs like those created by ENDOW, the state’s economic development initiative, including the startup grant program Kickstart Wyoming. A business wanting to use state grant money would have needed to pledge to reduce the wage gap in its company.

Another bill sponsored by Connolly, House Bill 71, was able to pass out of committee unanimously Monday. That bill increased the maximum fines for employers who violate equal-pay provisions from $250 a day to $500 a day. The increase would bring those violations in line with other labor law violations.

A review of 228 occupations in Wyoming by the state government recently showed women here earned on average 32 cents less for every dollar compared with their male counterparts. That ends up being the highest such wage gap in the nation.

Connolly said while Wyomingites are proud of being the Equality State, the Legislature couldn’t rest on the laurels of being the first state to extend voting to women. It had to do something to raise its standing from the worst for women in the workforce, she said.

For the failed HB 84, the inclusion of companies receiving grant money was a major reason three committee members – Sens. Jim Anderson, R- Casper, Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne – voted against the bill. That portion of the bill had also been a sticking point for some in the House who voted against the bill.

Anderson said he agreed with making sure state employees aren’t being paid differently, but said he didn’t want to meddle with private businesses.

Chairman Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, pointed out the companies were seeking financing from the state, as opposed to the bill delving into the finances of private companies with no relationship with the state. But that wasn’t enough to sway members to his side to support the bill.

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, was the other committee member to vote in favor of HB 84.

Hutchings seemed to question whether the gender pay gap wasn’t just an issue of the differences between men and women.

Hutchings asked Dean Fausset, director of the state’s Administration and Information Department, if the gender wage gap was a product of women taking time off to be with children, men being more physically capable of performing some work, or if it was just from women being sick more than their male counterparts.

“Even though the (job) is the same, if I’m going to be absent more times than my male counterpart, how do you adjust for those inequities (in the statistics)?” Hutchings asked. “If a woman who possibly would be gone from the job, even though we’re both doing the same job, let’s say I could possibly get sick more than the male. Or I have children at home, so I’m going to be gone 30 days or 15 days out of the month or the year more than my male counterpart; should that not justify a pay disparity?”

Fausset said the goal of equal pay laws is to ensure there is equal pay for equal effort. For state employees, paid leave and other benefits are factored into wages for all employees and don’t exacerbate any statistical wage disparity.

Connolly said the intent of her bills isn’t to prevent employers from rewarding hard work, overtime or productivity. It is simply to ensure if two employees are performing the same duty, they will be paid equally.

HB 71 is the last of the three gender pay bills that were filed this session. House Bill 72, which would have eliminated the ability of employers to bar workers from discussing wages, died on the House floor last week.