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Pay discrimination legislation moves forward in third attempt at state capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY - Legislation that would prohibit an employer from firing or discriminating against an employee who inquires about their wages and offer greater penalties for discriminating pay based solely on sex, is making another attempt at finding support at the state capitol.

The pay transparency legislation passed a house committee Monday, in what is its third go around in as many years.

"A lot of times, up here in the building, policy takes a while to get passed," said HB 1530's author Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, Monday evening. "We’re thrilled that this bill’s made it through the full (appropriations and budget) committee and we’ll have an opportunity to hear it on the house floor."

Members of the Appropriations and Budget committee approved the bill 24-2, with Reps. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, and Todd Russ, R-Cordell, voting against the measure. Russ voiced concerns about the possibility of a co-worker's personal information and wages becoming public.

“I think there’s a better way to do this," said Russ. "I don’t have any problem with female workers comparing their pay to male workers in the same job environment, the like-kind of job, or task. And I think there would be a lot more appropriate way to do this than this approach."

"We’ve had equal pay legislation on the books, from a federal standpoint, since the 1960s," said Dunnington, during committee debate on the bill. "While those laws have been in place for a long time, they can be made better, and this is one of the ways we can make this better."

If passed by both chambers and signed in to law, the bill would prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee payment of wages, benefits or other compensation based on sex. However wages and compensation variations would be allowed if based on things like seniority, merit and experience.

"We worked with key legislators, legislative leaders and the business community to develop language that closely reflects federal employment policies," said Oklahoma State Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs Adria Berry. "We are pleased to see that this bill integrates input from the business community."

Even as the number of women in the US workforce has increased over the years, their pay still lacks in comparison to their male peers, according to federal data. In Oklahoma, some estimates have women making $0.73 for every dollar a man makes.

"This is for equal work, equal experience, equal education. So there’s a significant amount of that wage gap that is necessarily attributed to implicit bias, unconscious bias and discrimination against women," said Liz Waggoner, the executive director of the Oklahoma Women's Coalition.

"This is not about sharing private information of employees," Waggoner said Tuesday afternoon. "It is giving space and allowing a woman to go to her employer and inquire without any sort of retribution. That she’s protected. That she has a voice. That she can do that without being worried about losing her job, or being ostracized in the workplace."