Minimum wage hike, equal pay legislation advance in Louisiana legislature

Published: Apr. 26, 2019 at 7:32 PM CDT
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The Senate’s labor committee advanced a bill Thursday, April 25 that would allow voters to decide whether the state should adopt a $9 per hour minimum wage.

The bill, authored by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, is a constitutional amendment that would require businesses to pay more than the current $7.25 federal minimum.

“In the highest spirit of democracy, this bill asks you to give the people of Louisiana an opportunity to vote on it," Carter said. "Let them be heard. Do not block and deny the citizens an opportunity to be heard.”

Carter has consistently brought forth minimum wage legislation during his term, but the bill has failed repeatedly because of concerns that a wage hike would be too hard on small businesses. Allowing voters to have a final say through a constitutional amendment throws a new twist into the old debate though.

“We should be creating an environment where people do more than just survive; they thrive," Carter said.

The bill represents one of Governor John Bel Edwards’ campaign goals and is part of his legislative package. At least 200,000 people would stand to get a raise if the bill becomes law, according to some experts.

But business leaders say a minimum wage hike constitutes government overreach.

“We believe that, philosophically, the market should dictate the wages,” said National Federation for Independent Business State Director Dawn Starns. "An arbitrary increase will only hurt the people that proponents are saying they want to help.”

The bill faces an uphill battle on the Senate floor, where similar legislation has died in recent years.

The committee also approved another bill backed by Edwards that would make it illegal for businesses to bar their employees from discussing how much they are paid. Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, the bill’s author, says it would force to employers to justify potential wage discrimination between men and women.

“I believe this is the most reasonable approach to addressing pay inequity," Morrell said. "Let the market govern. If you are paying two people differently as an employer, this bill does not make you pay them equally. It simply says that... you can justify it.”

“If I have two employees, and I think that one is more talented than the other and I can justify that, then that employee has a choice," Morrell continued. "That is capitalism. Capitalism is telling that employee, ‘This is what I think you’re worth.’”

The bill also prevents employers from asking job candidates how much they made at a previous job. Morrell likened that practice to insider trading, saying an employer should make salary offers based on market value rather than prior salary. It now heads to the Senate floor for full debate.

First Lady Donna Edwards sat silently in support of each bill. Gov. Edwards was scheduled to testify on, but left the capital to tour severe weather damage in northwestern Louisiana.

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