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June 20, 2017 | last updated June 20, 2017 3:57 pm

Lawmakers pass 'equal pay' bill as step toward removing pay gap for women

The Maine Senate today unanimously approved the bill sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, to fight the gender wage gap, affirming its preliminary 22-13 vote on Friday.

The Maine House already approved the bill in a 79-68 vote, with four absent, which means the bill now goes to Gov. Paul LePage, who has 10 days to sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

The bill — LD 1259, An Act Regarding Pay Equality — would prohibit employers from asking asking prospective employees how much they earned at their previous or current job, and would guarantee workers the right to discuss wages without disciplinary action or retaliation by their employer. When companies use prior pay to determine an employee's current wages, pay discrimination of the past often follows employees into their next jobs.

Supporters of the legislation, citing data by the National Partnership for Women and Families, testified that Maine women earn an average of just 78 cents for every dollar earned by Maine men. Annually, that's an average wage gap of $10,093 for Maine women who are employed full-time.

"This vote shows that the Maine Senate is serious about ending wage discrimination — whether it is caused by explicit bias or unintentional but widespread business practices," Breen said in a news release sent to Mainebiz by the Senate Democratic Office. "Workers should be paid a market-based salary that reflects their education, experience, qualifications, credentials and work ethic, regardless of whether a previous job underpaid them because of their gender — or any other reason," Breen said. "If this bill becomes law, it will be a victory not only for the hundreds of thousands of Maine women who are underpaid, but for all workers that deserve fair compensation."

LD 1259 would charge the Maine Human Rights Commission with enforcing the new prohibition on inquiring about previous salaries, just as it is charged with enforcing other anti-discrimination laws in Maine. Putting this provision under the auspices of the MHRC also means that other protected classes could also seek relief from income discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act.

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