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March 13. 2014 7:30PM

State Senate unanimously passes 'Paycheck Equity Act'

CONCORD — The state Senate Thursday unanimously passed the "Paycheck Equity Act" to prevent wage discrimination based on a person’s gender.

The bill is the brainchild of Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord, who said that wage discrimination does exist in the state. She said federal labor statistics show that women make an average of 77 percent of the wages earned by men for the same jobs.

Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said SB 207 is a fair way to provide equity while protecting employers.

The bill allows for the possibility of differences in pay based on the specific duties of a job as well as workers’ experience and education.

Sanborn said the state’s equal pay laws were last amended 10 years ago. He insisted that there is no widespread wage discrimination against women among state employers and that the state Department of Labor has received only three pay inequity complaints in the past 20 years — with all, he said “being found to be unfounded.”

“We do not have a wage gap,” said Sanborn. “We have a jobs gap.”

Larsen said, “This bill is not election-year rhetoric. This is kitchen table common sense.”

She said pay inequity between men and women in New Hampshire is real and averages $11,000 on an annual basis.

“I agree there is a jobs gap,” Larsen said. “But there is a pay gap as well. That’s a lot of purchasing power that never makes it into families’ budgets.” She said 60 percent of women are the primary wage earners in their households.

Larsen said the bill includes a “non-retaliation provision” that prohibits employer retaliation against workers who inquire about their wages or discuss wages with co-workers.

The bill extends the statute of limitations for bringing an action against an employer from one to three years, Larsen said.

“This is an important day for all of us,” she said. “Everyone has someone in their family who may have been subject to this pay disparity.”

Sens. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, and Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, said they were paid less than male co-workers in similar positions many years ago. They said it is time for New Hampshire to ensure such practices cannot continue.

After the 23-0 vote, with Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, excused for the day, the bill now goes to the House.

After the vote, Gov. Maggie Hassan called the vote “an overwhelming, bipartisan affirmation of the principle that an equal day’s work deserves an equal day’s pay. This common-sense measure to help eliminate the pay gap between women and men will strengthen our economy and the financial security of working families across our state.”

She also said the “definitive, bipartisan action by the full Senate affirms that both Republicans and Democrats agree we must act to close the wage gap in New Hampshire.”

Larsen said the bill, when enacted, will give women “the much needed tools they need to combat the wage gap.”

Sanborn said the bill “builds on our successful law to guarantee our statues continue to work for future generations. SB 207 restates the responsibility employers have to pay men and woman equal wages for equal work, further protects the existing right employees have to discuss wage information with co-workers, and strengthens existing non-retaliation laws to protect employees who see fit to file a claim under the law.”


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