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Capitol Views: House blocks part of governor’s equal pay push; Barham possible pick for National Marine Fisheries Service post

May 3, 2017
By Jeremy Alford
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Despite the proposal being a part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ official package, legislation to ban private companies from engaging in “pay secrecy” was soundly rejected today by the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

House Bill 222 by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, would have prohibited employers from taking actions against employees for inquiring about, discussing or disclosing their wages or another employee’s wages. Up against conservative resistance, the bill failed in a 5-9 vote.

The governor’s drive on equal pay, though, still had a second life as the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee met into the afternoon. That’s where lawmakers began debate over Senate Bill 2 by Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, which represents a much further reach on the issue and is also supported by Edwards.

The legislation, which will likely be voted on later in the day, expands the Louisiana Equal Pay Act to include men and a number of different employer groups like local governments and associations. It likewise provides guidelines for related lawsuits.

Before her legislative loss, Moreno received support from a number of speakers, including Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who said she did not originally believe a state wage gap existed, but after three years of listening to testimony on the subject, her mind was changed.

“I realized it wasn’t just some way to get us to do something to harm business,” Stokes said, adding, “People who are running payroll, they’ve told me, ‘It’s real.'”

Representatives from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Federal of Independent Business both argued that there are already federal and state laws that address the objectives of Moreno’s bill. It was a line of attack echoed by many of the conservative members of the House committee.

If Morrell is successful this evening with the Senate’s labor committee, and he does find favor on the floor, where similar measures have been advanced in the past, he will still have to face off against the House’s labor committee. And once there Morrell and other supporters will have to hope that today’s 5-9 vote is somehow reversible for a counterpart bill that’s much more aggressive.

—Louisiana’s head of state parks is in the running to lead up the National Marine Fisheries Service, reports E&E News, an energy and environment trade publication. The agency oversees national fishing regulations and research, which is an area Robert Barham, the former state wildlife and fisheries secretary, knows well.

Recreational fishermen are sending letters to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking that Barham be considered. Other contenders include Chris Oliver, director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.