Just before 2 a.m. Thursday, the 2019 session of the Wyoming Legislature adjourned. Only one of the three bills addressing the gender wage gap passed.
As described in my three-column series in December and January, “Exploring the gender wage gap,” Wyoming women earn 68 cents for every dollar men earn. This striking average considers only men and women who work the same number of hours year-round, in the same occupation and with the same education and experience.
And please note: Unconscious biases, the “motherhood penalty” and different values on gendered occupations — while all significant — don’t enter the equation. If they did, I’m sure the gap would be much, much wider.
The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services published this data in a study in late 2018. State legislators formed a joint committee to explore the issue, ultimately voting to sponsor three related bills in the 2019 legislative session.
First to fail was House Bill 72, which didn’t make it out of the House in January. Addressing wage transparency, it would have ensured that employers can’t prevent their employees from publicly discussing their wages.
This is a shame. When a female employee doesn’t know that she’s earning less than her male counterpart, any pay negotiation is undercut. Sure, transparent wages could be an HR headache, but isn’t that worth guaranteeing that salaries are based on experience, education and performance — not gender?
Shelved in the Senate just this week, House Bill 84 would have required the state of Wyoming to report and analyze wage information every other year.
Another pity. This bill could have promoted wage equality in government employment, in addition to businesses that applied for grants from the Wyoming Business Council.
But one bill made it. House Bill 71 was signed by Gov. Mark Gordon on Feb. 14. Effective in July, employers convicted of paying women less than men will be fined $200 to $500 and/or up to six months of imprisonment.
Good news, right?
House Bill 71 is hopping on an existing equal pay law by simply increasing the penalties, which were originally $25 to $200 and/or 10 to 180 days of imprisonment.
The change is something, but it’s not enough.
The failure of House Bills 72 and 84 demonstrates to me that legislators either don’t understand the problem of our state’s gender wage gap — which is second largest in the United States — or, like many of The Sheridan Press’ most vocal Facebook followers, don’t believe it exists.
I hope to continue to shed light on this issue as the “Year of Wyoming Women,” as the state is calling it, marches on.
Bonus: “Mountain daylight time” bill
On a less fraught note — or more, depending on who you ask — I wrote about daylight saving time in November, delving into its history; the fierce, ongoing debate; and my own silly biannual surprise.
As we approach next Sunday’s “spring forward,” I checked in on another piece of legislation: House Bill 14. Put forth for the fourth consecutive year, the “Mountain daylight time” bill called for the end of all time changes.
Compared to issues like Medicaid expansion or taxing oil (or hey, the gender wage gap), ending a one-hour time change doesn’t strike me as critical legislation. But I may be in the minority, here: People hate daylight saving time. Like, really, really hate it.
I imagine these haters watching eagerly as the “Mountain daylight time” bill passed the House and was recommended by a Senate subcommittee, only to have their hopes dashed when the Committee of the Whole failed it — twice.
Fine by me. Just as I looked forward to brighter morning jogs in November, I look forward to brighter evening walks in March.
I remain disappointed in the Wyoming Legislature’s approach to the gender wage gap, but, to give my heart a break, I will remember to look on the bright side of the legislative session.