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Breen's equal pay bill dies after Senate upholds veto

BY STAFF

7/21/2017

The Maine Senate on Thursday voted to uphold Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to fight the gender wage gap by requiring employers to pay fair, market-based wages regardless of their workers’ previous pay rates.
The measure had previously passed in the Senate by a vote of 22-13, with five Republicans joining all 17 Democrats in support of the bill. In a 20-11 vote on Thursday, however, the effort to override the veto fell short of the two-thirds threshold necessary to enact the law over the governor’s objection. 
The bill — LD 1259, “An Act Regarding Pay Equality” — was sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. It would have prohibited employers from asking prospective employees how much they earned at their previous or current job, and would guarantee workers the right to discuss wages without disciplinary action or retaliation by their employer.
“This is a sad day for women and for supporters of equality in Maine,” Breen said in a statement provided by the Maine Senate Democratic Office. “What will it take for politicians of all stripes to not simply pay lip service to equality, but to actually support policies that will can make equal pay a reality? This bill was based on a premise that should never have been controversial: Workers should be paid a market-based salary that reflects their education, experience, qualifications, credentials and work ethic, regardless of whether a previous job underpaid them because of their gender — or any other reason.”
Supporters of the legislation, citing data by the National Partnership for Women and Families, testified that Maine women earn an average of just 78 cents for every dollar earned by Maine men. Annually, that's an average wage gap of $10,093 for Maine women who are employed full-time.
They had suggested the “previous salary question” perpetuates the wage gap, since the answer to that question can result in a salary offer well below market value, particularly for women who on average are already earning less than men.
LD 1259 would have charged the Maine Human Rights Commission with enforcing the new prohibition on inquiring about previous salaries, just as it is charged with enforcing other anti-discrimination laws in Maine. Putting this provision under the auspices of the MHRC would also have meant other protected classes could also seek relief from income discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act.
The bill is now dead, but Breen said she will continue to fight for equal pay.