By Madeline Meyer and Lauren Heffker, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The House Labor Committee rejected bills on Thursday to let local authorities determine their own minimum wage rates and to implement equal pay measures for all women in Louisiana.
The panel voted 9-6 against the minimum wage bill.
Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the bill, said the state should not keep cities “in a chokehold and prevent them from being able to do what they think is in their best interest.”
The committee voted 9-6 to reject the bill to require equal pay for all women, including part-time workers.
In 1997, Louisiana was one of the first states to adopt the federal minimum wage. At that time, the state passed a law that revoked local governments’ authority to set minimum wages. Duplessis’ bill would have repealed that decision.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is up for re-election, has advocated raising the minimum wage across the state for the past three years. In April, the governor also endorsed a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to decide on a $9 minimum hourly rate.
Sixteen people spoke in favor of Duplessis’ bill. Almost 100 people attended the hearing to support the bill.
Proponents said that the national $7.25 wage reflects decades-old economic policy and is not high enough to sustain growth in parishes in north and central Louisiana. Joe Fuller, a councilman from Alexandria, said low wages are placing Louisiana at a disadvantage with states like Arkansas.
“We don’t want to lose our people, and right now, I am losing my people,” Fuller said. “I have got to have something that we can use to help.”
While Texas, Mississippi and Alabama also retain the federal minimum of $7.25, Arkansas increased its minimum wage to $9.25.
Jim Patterson of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, and Dawn Starns, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, opposed the bill.
Patterson argued that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs. He and Starns also expressed concern that the bill would “create a patchwork from parish to parish.”
Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, said the state should give companies the freedom to pay what they want “instead of becoming Nazi Germany or socialist Venezuela.”
Duplessis said he will continue to advocate for local authorities to set a minimum wage in the belief that “locals know best.”
Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, proposed the bill on equal-pay for women, which also failed 9-6.
“Just do the right thing,” Norton said. “Why can we not do the right thing?”
Horton and Rep. Beryl A. Amedee, R-Houma, the two women on the committee, voted against the bill.
Gov. Edwards has been vocal about his support for equal pay legislation.
Louisiana has the largest gender pay gap in the country, according to a 2016 report from the American Association of University Women. For every dollar earned by a man, a woman earns about 69 cents.
But over the past decade, nearly 30 equal-pay bills have been shot down in the Louisiana Legislature.