Gov. John Bel Edwards and Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, urge an expansion of the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women’s Act at a Senate hearing Thursday. (Sarah Gamard/LSU Manship School News Service)

BATON ROUGE–Gov. John Bel Edwards advocated at a Senate hearing Thursday for his bills to raise the minimum wage and an expand an equal-pay law for women, and the committee voted to send both of the bills to the Senate floor.

The  Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee approved the equal-pay bill unanimously. The minimum-wage bill passed 4-3, with three Republicans Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, and Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Shreveport, opposing it.

“You all know that when I ran for governor, I made a commitment to the people across the state of Louisiana that I would fight for fair pay,” Edwards said. “I met single parents who were frustrated that an honest day’s work didn’t produce an honest day’s wages, and it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. I met women who didn’t even know they were being paid less than their male counterparts when they were similarly qualified and doing substantially doing the same job.”

“I vowed that I would work to create a reasonable minimum wage and the assurance of equal pay for equal work,” he added.

Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, sponsored SB 162, which would increase the minimum wage for Louisiana residents. Carter’s bill would establish a state minimum wage of $8.00 an hour, which would take effect in 2019 and then rise to $8.50 an hour in 2020.

Louisiana is currently one of five states which does not have a state minimum wage, relying instead on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Carter argued that, due to rising living expenses, minimum-wage workers are  struggling to afford basic necessities such as bread and milk.

“When you think about those things that we take for granted, we assume everybody has that–my friends, they don’t,” Carter said. “People are making very, very difficult choices. But for the grace of God, somehow they are surviving. We owe it to them to do better.”

Carter said many older adults with families would be affected by this bill, not just college or high school students working entry-level positions as some might believe.

“There are parents, with minimum wage jobs attempting to raise families, so the notion that this is just some summer job for a kid who’s making minimum wage–no, the statistics don’t bare that fact,” Carter said.

Carter also introduced a bill that would repeal the law preventing local governments from setting their own minimum wage rates. It was approved by the committee.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, sponsored the bill meant to expand the reach of the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act to include private businesses that have pubic contracts.

The act, which currently only applies to state government employees, prohibits employers from paying women less than men for the same or substantially similar work within the same agency.

“We’ve seen a lot of bipartisan support in making sure that in government jobs and government roles that we enforce and support equal pay,” Morrell said. He said it was only natural to expand that to women working for companies being paid by the state.

Edwards pointed out that the bill would help the children of women who are the main financial providers for their family.

“These are small steps, but they are going to make a big difference,” he added. “Truthfully, of all the things we do here, this ought to be easy.”

By Ryan Noonan, LSU Manship School News Service