SHERIDAN — The Wyoming House of Representatives passed on to the Senate a bill that will either indicate that Wyoming does not have an issue with wage disparity, or uphold the state’s nearly dead last national ranking on the issue.
A report put out by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, “The Wage Gap between Wyoming’s Men and Women: 2016,” was written by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, with data assistance from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center. It says that women who work full time year round make 69 cents on the dollar compared to men. Currently, Wyoming is ranked 50th compared to other states and the District of Columbia.
Connolly, who is a co-sponsor of House Bill 209 with Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, said the two are coming at the bill from completely different perspectives. The bill would provide for a study and report on wage and benefit disparities in the state.
Connolly said her own view is that wage disparity is an important issue that needs to be addressed with policy. Halverson’s perspective is that the wage gap figures are misleading and based on economic mix and choices made by men and women.
Connolly said the gap affects more than individual workers, it affects Wyoming’s economic development.
“For me, we are considered one of, if not the most, business friendly states in the nation based on our tax policy,” Connolly said, “but we’re not doing well enough to attract new businesses that diversify our economy here.”
If the study is done and concludes what Connolly thinks it will, she said it’s possible to start changes with state employees since the Legislature has so much control over that sector. Lawmakers could then move to the private sector, possibly offering incentives for businesses to recruit more women for jobs that typically employ men.
When it comes to recruiting new businesses into the state, Connolly said that asking for pay to be at or above national wages could be one thing they add to stipulations.
The bill passed in the House on its third reading 37-23 on Feb. 1. Connolly said that opposition came with the thinking that Wyoming is extractive industry driven.
She said that though it’s true when it comes to the state’s tax structure, it’s not true of the labor force, which includes far more employees from the government and service sectors.
While Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, voted against the bill, he said that since the vote he’s spoken with the sponsors, gained more understanding and thinks it’s an opportunity to improve dated information.
“I guess I can’t explain why I voted that way at the time,’ Kinner said, explaining that it could possibly have been a concern about money. He added, “but having talked to her about the need to increase this, you know, I’ve come to think that we did the right thing by sending it over to the Senate.”
Kinner said the study will divulge whether Wyoming has made progress and either put the issue to rest or give legislators accurate, updated information to move forward.
The bill was received for introduction in the Senate on Feb. 2 and has not yet been assigned to a committee, but Connolly said she has no worries about it getting through.
“I’m a Wyoming Democrat, I am the definition of an optimist,” Connolly said, “so of course I think it’ll pass with flying colors.”