BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After rejecting sweeping measures to protect women from being paid less than men for the same work, lawmakers gave final passage Friday to a bill that specifies intentional pay discrimination based on sex is illegal.
Senators voted 28-10 for the measure from Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandville, that originally dealt with limiting penalties for employers who failed to pay wages.
The measure was amended Thursday by the House to add that intentional pay discrimination is unlawful under state and federal law, reflecting a bill by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, which was rejected by the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee Wednesday.
Stokes described her bill as a conservative solution to the gender pay gap, but critics said the measure only repeats what is already in the law and doesn't address pay inequities.
"Why don't we have any teeth in this?" said Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, chairman of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Stokes said it would clarify the anti-discrimination statute, which she said was adequate.
"I believe that protections already exist against pay discrimination," Stokes said.
On the Senate floor, Amedee again said legislation that only specifies what current anti-discrimination statutes do is unhelpful.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, agreed, arguing it was a distraction from the problem of pay disparities between men and women.
In Louisiana, women make 67 cents on average for every $1 men make on average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the second highest gender pay gap in the country.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, said Donahue's amended bill retreats from what Louisiana did last year with a law that protects state government workers from unintentional pay discrimination based on sex.
"It takes a step backward," Murray said.
Discussion over how to address pay inequality has divided over the issue of whether intentionality needs to be proven in discrimination cases.
While Stokes' supporters argued intent needs to be proven in order to avoid frivolous lawsuits for businesses, Democrats have said laws need to go further and protect from unintentional pay discrimination.
Peterson proposed a measure to ban private employers from unintentionally paying women less than men for the same work, which has stalled on the Senate floor. A similar version was rejected by a House committee.
Under Peterson's bill, an employee would only need to show that her boss is paying her less than a male colleague for the same work, rather than prove intent. She had support from women's groups.
"It is very hard to prove intentionality," said Julie Schwam Harris, co-chair for Legislative Agenda for Women.
While women's groups criticized Stokes' measure for not going beyond current laws, business groups, including the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, backed Stokes' measure for staying in line with federal statutes.
Donahue's amended bill heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk for final consideration.