Denver Post: House considering a trio of equal pay bills

Hear about the collection of Equal Pay bills championed by 9to5 Colorado, and our success so far!

Reposted from The Denver Post

By Joey Bunch

House Democrats gave initial approval to the first of three equal pay bills Tuesday, but Republicans argued there are already plenty of laws on the books aimed at ensuring women earn the same as their male counterparts.

Democratic Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Janet Buckner of Aurora said the state has to lead by example by passing their bill to require any company that bids on state contracts meet equal-pay standards. The bill still needs a roll call vote in the Democrat-led House before moving to the Republican-held Senate, where it’s likely headed for the graveyard of well-intended legislation.

Democrats have two more equal pay bills in the hopper. House Bill 1156 would give every employee the right to discuss his or her wages. House Bill 1166, sponsored by Danielson and Rep. Joe Salazar from Thornton, would block employers from asking about salary history,which passed out of committee on a 10-3 bipartisan vote Tuesday afternoon.

Republicans on the House floor Monday said they are all for equal pay, but passing more laws on top of existing state and federal non-discrimination laws seems like a waste of time and a burden on small business.

“This is nothing new,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence, a Republican from Douglas County. “These (bills) are addressing issues that already are illegal in this country. This bill is not adding anything new to our statutes, except it’s adding another piece of paper, another burden of regulation on our contractors to pass through to their subcontractors.

“The vast majority of companies in our state comply with wage laws. I’m not going to say 100 percent, because we always have bad apples.”

Rep. Cole Wist, a Republican from Centennial, said the state-contracts bill added no new standard for equal pay but collected data that opposing attorneys and business competition could use against employers.

Democrats argued that it is a matter of principle. Rep. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, said requiring pay data from state contractors is a vehicle to find unequal treatment.

“It gives us an opportunity to take responsibility to say we’re not going to surrender to any inequity, any unfair practices in the state of Colorado,” she said. “If we see something wrong, we’re going to say something about it and we’re going to correct it.”

Buckner agreed most employers are following the law, but data still shows women earn 80 cents for every dollar a while male earns, and the numbers are even worse for minority women.

“African-American women make 63.6 cents on the dollar for what a white, non-Hispanic man makes,” she argued. “Latino women make less than that. Yes, a lot of companies are doing the right thing, but for those companies who are not, it’s not fair to those employees, be it men or women, to not be paid fairly, so someone is obviously is not doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Danielson said her bill is an important step in the right direction and a matter of accountability to taxpayers.

“Will this bill alone bridge the wage gap? The answer is no, this bill alone will not bridge the wage gap,” she said. “… But it is one piece of the puzzle put together that will help. It is one small step that we as legislators can take to ensure the public that when the state of Colorado is doing business with your hard-earned taxpayer dollars you can feel comfortable that those companies are companies that treat their employees fairly.”

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