Equal pay for equal work bills die in House

By TOM MILES,

Last week marked the first big committee deadline, and a number of high profile ideas were left on the cutting room floor, as they say.

 As has been the case over the past few sessions, only a few measures survived for consideration of the full House of Representatives. We started the session with 2,484 measures and 687 made the first cuts from both chambers.

Among the issues that won’t be addressed during this session are the lottery, any issues dealing with the state flag in any way, religious exemptions from vaccines, ending state exit exams for high school seniors, enabling nurse practitioners to practice under collaborative agreements with physicians, and any measures that provided pay raises for state employees or school teachers.

If you notice, the measures that died are those for which there had been quite an outcry of approval prior to the session. Most of them had broad, bipartisan support in the state; however, the House leadership didn’t deem these matters important enough to bring forward for full vetting and debate.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing outcomes was the death of every single bill that had been introduced to ensure that equal pay for equal work would be mandated by state law. In Mississippi, women make about 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For children living in homes where women are the breadwinners, their chances of living in poverty are enormous. Why? Because their mothers aren’t bringing in enough money — sometimes from multiple jobs — to provide financial security for their families. One committee chair said that Mississippi didn’t need this because “it is already federal law.” Many of us questioned why 48 other states have passed equal pay laws if it isn’t necessary. Only Mississippi and Alabama choose not to respect the work of women in this way.

On Friday, Representative Alyce Clarke seized the moment to offer an equal pay amendment to House Bill 1241, which deals with minimum wage law. The amendment passed overwhelmingly 84-32, with bi-partisan support. At this writing, the measure is being held on a point-of-order, but I think it’s important that House members showed clearly their support of equal pay. That tells me that if a bill was ever “allowed” to be voted on, it would pass by a large margin.

A number of other measures did live through the committee deadline and were approved by the House.

House Bill 1024 is yet another effort to ensure that drivers have insurance to protect other people on the road. This measure requires that an individual must show proof of liability insurance before purchasing a car tag. I believe this is a good bill, although I voted “present” due to the appearance of a conflict of interest.

We passed a measure to expand the number of mental health courts in Mississippi. House Bill 419 passed by a vote of 116-1. This idea is in response to the growing recognition that addiction and mental illness are diseases that cause many of the petty crimes and bad acts that previously landed perpetrators in jail with no treatment for the underlying causes. Under the Mental Health Court scenario, individuals can be treated and counseled under supervision so that they can become healthy, contributing citizens. I sponsored this legislation and this trend toward a more reasonable approach for ill offenders.

 Jackson isn’t the only municipality struggling with water issues. Many smaller towns and cities lack the funds to address water infrastructure issues. I co-sponsored House Bill 1200 which provides opportunity for these towns and cities to apply for grants to help them improve this vital service to their citizens.

A measure to provide funds for a trooper school this year is still alive in the House. I’m hoping this makes it through the process so that we can be assured that our highways and byways will be thoroughly patrolled and protected.