DENVER – Colorado Democrats on Thursday began to advance an equal-pay agenda, which would include prohibiting employers from asking about salary history.
Two bills passed through the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on party-line votes, which does not bode well for the bills in the Republican-controlled Senate.
In addition to the legislation that would ban employers from asking about salary history, Democrats also advanced a bill that would require a large business that bids for a government contract to prove that it is in compliance with equal-pay standards and laws in order to be considered for the procurement process.
“It establishes for the first time equal-pay standards in our state,” Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, said of her bill. “It requires businesses that the state of Colorado does business with to meet those standards. It’s our opportunity to take a step forward in bridging the wage gap in our state.”
Both bills now head to the full House for debate.
The salary history measure was amended on Thursday so that if an employer posts a salary range for the position, then they can have a conversation about salary history.
A third measure in the equal pay package was still awaiting a hearing in the House. The bill would extend protections against retribution from an employer for discussing wages with fellow employees.
Democrats touted the package at a news conference on Jan. 28, towards the start of the legislative session. The media event was meant to coincide with the seventh anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
But there had been little movement on the agenda until Thursday, after the Legislature passed the halfway point for the year.
Proponents of the bills point out that Colorado women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. That gap increases for minorities. At the current rate, the gender pay gap won’t close until 2049.
Business interests, however, said employers are policing themselves by implementing policies to close the gap.
“I don’t think that asking about salary is necessarily penalizing them,” said Tammeron Trujillo, with Mountain States Employers Council. “It is a foundation of the employee-employer relationship. It is something that employers should be able to discuss, just as the employee would be able to ask about what is the compensation package that the employer is offering.”
Loren Furman, lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, took issue with legislation that would penalize employers under anti-discrimination laws, which could result in expensive legal fees and punitive damages.
“This is truly a sledgehammer approach to employers simply because they are asking a question about salary history,” Furman said.
Republicans tend to favor a free-market approach, which is why the legislation is likely doomed in the Senate.
“If we already have the mechanisms in place to take care of the bad actors ... then what we should be striving for is giving businesses the freedom to set their own bar,” said Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction.
But Rep. Brittany Pettersen. D-Lakewood, a co-sponsor of the salary history bill, said action needs to be taken to more quickly close the gap.
“We know that the gender gap exists and that our friends, mothers and daughters will likely be paid less in Colorado than men,” she said. “This bill is only a piece of what we need to do together to address this inequity.”