SADOW: At The Legislature, Some Bills Keep Coming Back Like Herpes

It’s not that bad bills make it into law in Louisiana – it happens far too often. It’s that you would not expect that a committee would pass one along unanimously after many almost-identical versions have been rejected in the past – some this session.

SB 219 by Sen. Edwin Murray tackles the fiction that, all things considered equal, women do not receive equal pay compared to men. Reams of academic studies have demonstrated when accounting for all conditions, such as differences in occupation choices, hours worked, educational attainment, taken time off, reliability, and seniority between sexes, any difference in pay statistically goes to zero, or even favors women in certain cases. That makes perfect sense: there are few hardcore sexists out there in the business world who would not want to maximize profits by getting the best workers for their value, and that means ignoring sex as well as a host of other factors when these have nothing to do with the job at hand.

Proponents of this legislation, ultimately designed to extend government control over business with this goal obscured by presentation of a solution to a nonexistent problem, understand that and over the years have adopted a number of strategies to try to work around this fact. The tried-and-true tactic is to introduce the concept of “comparable worth” into such legislation, revealed upon seeing phrases such as “all employees shall be compensated equally for work that is the same or comparable in kind and quality” [emphasis added]. In other words, rather than let the market decide valuation of activities, some artificial construct makes that determination; for example, something is deemed wrong if nurses, a field primarily staffed by women, with bachelors’ degrees make less money than computer technicians, who primarily are men, with associates’ degrees, as a science degree like nursing should produce more “valuable” work. Et voilà, to explain the difference it must be sexual “discrimination” at work.

Murray’s bill tries to amend in this phrase to existing law that in a straightforward fashion currently prohibits discrimination in pay by state agencies solely on the basis of sex, as well as others like it in other parts of the bill. Yet also note the bill’s language tries to apply it outside government as well, where elsewhere in it covered entities are defined as nongovernment employers with at least 20 employees.

It also tries a second-generation tactic by negating the need to show that actual sexist attitudes of employers must be behind decisions to pay discriminatorily, through the inclusion of the nonsensical concept of “unintentional discrimination” as a justification for its applicability. Since the harm done by unequal pay by definition for it to be discriminatory must be intended, the whole notion is absurd but considered a vital asset for bill proponents because then actual intent does not have to be established, just that disparate outcomes happened “accidentally” and therefore can be demonstrated by something simple and misleading as raw pay differentials, which do not reflect the effects of the other factors listed above nor tells anything about any bad intent.

Legitimizing this foolishness in the bill arms government with the cudgel to impose its will, an enforcement mechanism that makes it all too easy for covered entities to be brought up on charges to a state board despite engaging in no genuine unjustified discrimination on the basis of sex. This device accomplishes the purpose of increasing government control over private entities. A final wrinkle removes women-specific references.

None of this should be new to senators, who last year beat back attempts to insert comparable worth and unintentional discrimination language into legislation. Yet members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, including all Republicans present, voted unanimously in favor of the bill that not tries again to stuff such language into law, but also expands it to cover outside of government – even though some interest groups filed cards in opposition, although none of their representatives spoke against it. Admittedly, last year committee members Republican state Sens. Jody Amedee and Bob Kostelka proved sympathetic to the radical language, but it was fellow GOP member state Sen. Jack Donahue’s bill over which one of the battles was fought then, and another GOP state senator, Mike Walsworth, also was on hand. Even as the only Democrat there was state Sen. JP Morrell and it would have passed 3-2 judging by last year’s results, at least it could have been brought to a vote as a demonstration that stupid ideas should meet with protest (Murray also is a committee member, but did not vote.)

Today the matter is scheduled to come up in the Senate. By then, hopefully at least Republican senators, who comprise a majority of the chamber, will have woken up to this and do the right thing in rejecting it. If for some reason they remain in blissful slumber about the deleterious effects of the bill, it appears their House counterparts are wide awake to these, signaled by the rejection in committee of similar bills earlier in the session. Still, it’s a disgrace to let bad legislation continue to waste legislators’ precious time, and putting down SB 219 this afternoon would serve best Louisianans.



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