CHEYENNE – In the wake of a 2018 study that found women in Wyoming are routinely paid less than men, lawmakers are considering three bills aimed to address what has been the nation’s worst wage gap.
The three bills – two of which are based on similar legislation in other states, one of which is Wyoming specific – are moderate, small fixes to existing statute, said House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who is sponsoring the measures.
The bills cleared the House Labor Committee on Monday night after several hours of deliberation and will now be debated by the full House.
The first, HB71, resembles a bill that passed the House in last year’s budget session but failed to reach the Senate floor in time, and would align penalties for violating the state’s equal pay act with other incidents of wage theft.
While increasing accountability, Connolly argued, the rule would also help improve Wyoming’s status with the federal government which, under current regulations, handles all of Wyoming’s pay equity complaints through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The reason for this, said Wyoming’s Deputy Administrator for Labor Standards Kelly Roseberry, is because the state has a record of poorly upholding the law and that the federal government doesn’t “necessarily trust us to enforce those.”
Though the state handles no more than five of these cases per year, the federal government often doesn’t refer back to the state after they take on a case, which Roseberry noted can often be settled without litigation.
That bill passed unanimously.
A second bill brought up by the committee would bar employers from prohibiting workers from discussing their wages. The bill would not mandate private employers to report the wages of individual employees – only create penalties for those who prevent employees from discussing their wages with each other.
The bill passed 8-1, with Rep. Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne, voting against it.
The most controversial bill of the evening was HB84 – a piece of legislation Connolly said “looks at our own house” by performing a biennial analysis of the wage gap within state government. This, she said, would give state officials a mechanism to make wage changes if they find disparities, and to apply similar standards to the state’s Endow program, adding a requirement that start-up companies applying for public money take measures to address the wage gap.
While easily implemented – the state already conducts biennial wage reviews and representatives with the Wyoming Business Council said implementing the changes would not be challenging – some expressed concern that the cost adjustment would have unknown impacts on state budgets and on private businesses, who at that point in the Endow process might be focusing on things things other than addressing the wage gap.
Connolly emphasized that the intent of the bill was not to undermine the value of hard work or seniority in paying people, but working around the state’s existing law to ensure gender is not a factor in paying someone less.
“Nothing in our equal pay work discounts from merit or hard work,” Connolly said. “If someone works harder, they should get paid more. No ‘buts’ about it.”
The bill passed 5-4.
Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds