BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards called on lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at closing the pay gap between men and women during a summit Friday in Baton Rouge.
Addressing a crowd of about 300 people, most of them women, Edwards said that in Louisiana, on average, a woman makes just 66 cents for every dollar a man makes.
"It's an embarrassment, it's outrageous," Edwards said. "It's time for some folks in government who talk about family values to start promoting policies that value families."
First Lady Donna Edwards joined her husband at the summit, making the case that raising wages for women would help whole families, especially those living in poverty.
"A gallon of milk doesn't cost 34 cents less because a woman buys it," the First Lady said.
However, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives during the upcoming session is likely to be an uphill battle. Similar legislation failed last year. The difficulty facing equal pay supporters was on display during a panel discussion at the summit, with one Republican saying she is not yet convinced of whether the bill is necessary.
"If I'm not happy with what I'm making, then I'm going to seek a different position, or I'm going to improve my skills or abilities or availabilities," said Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma.
Meanwhile, representatives for the small business community are once again expressing opposition to the effort. Dawn Stars, the state director for the National Foundation of Independent Business, said her members worry the bill could lead to costly litigation if employees choose to pursue legal action.
"Remedies already exist. Equal pay is already on the books," Starns said. "So to put in additional laws opens the door for additional lawsuits."
That said, there are some cracks in the Republican wall of opposition, including Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who spoke at the summit. "I have concerns about putting additional regulations and mandates on business, but I believe that it might be time to support legislation that seeks to shine a light on this problem in the workforce," Stokes said.
Equal pay supporters are also pushing for a bill that would require private businesses to release details about the salaries for different employees. They say this will allow women to better decide if they are being paid fairly.
Lawmakers return to the capitol April 10.