Equal pay maneuver thwarted in House

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Mississippi House of Representatives

Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens

Some parliamentary gamesmanship spiced up what should have been a routine day in the House chamber.

It started when Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, tried to signal that he wanted to pull an equal pay bill out of committee and put in the calendar for a floor vote.

Speaker Philip Gunn, R- Clinton, denied the motion because Gunn did not see or hear Clark attempt to make his motion at the appropriate time.

“It wasn’t intentional to ignore him, I didn’t see him,” Gunn said.

The legislation at the center of the fracas was House Bill 1080, called the Mississippi Pay Equity Act, which is currently doubled referred to House Judiciary and Workforce Development committees.

Clark’s motion cites statistics about wage disparities between men and women.

“It is 2017 and women in Mississippi still are not receiving equal pay for equal work,” the motion states. “Mississippi should be a level playing field, a fair race for everyone—a place where anyone who is wiling to work hard has a chance to get ahead.”

After a brief recess for House lawyers to discuss Clark’s request, Clark asked for unanimous consent to pull the bill out of committee. One male member verbally objected, killing Clark’s motion.

Treasurer's Office

State Treasurer Lynn Fitch

The debate came on the same day that state Treasurer Lynn Fitch, one of the most powerful women in Mississippi government, urged legislators to consider several pieces of legislation filed to address wage equity.

“Closing the pay gap is good for Mississippi on so many levels,” Fitch said in a press release. “For the 78,000 households in poverty headed by single moms, it gives them a fair chance to break the cycle of poverty. For the 60 percent of Mississippi university degrees earned by women, it gives them a reason to take jobs in states that protect equal pay for equal work.  And, for all Mississippi taxpayers and consumers, it puts another $4 billion back into the economy each year.”

In total, the House passed five bills Monday afternoon. Among them, one bill would give the Mississippi Development Authority the ability to sell or dispose of any projects under its purview.

House Bill 859 passed with 111 votes; one of the nine representatives who voted against the bill was Rep. Jay Hughes D-Oxford, who asked if the bill would give MDA the sole authority to sell assets or failed art projects owned by the Mississippi Arts Commission.

Rep. Jeffrey Smith, R-Columbus, told Hughes the answer to his question would depend on whether a bill is passed that transfers the Arts Commission funding and duties to MDA.

“The state would have the ability to sell off the property, whether it’s MDA or another state agency,” Smith said. “Your question was, ‘If this passes would MDA be the one to sell it off?’ The answer is yes.”

Tuesday is the deadline for a bill to pass out of committee, which grants it the possibility for a vote in either house.