In a surprise move Friday, the House approved an effort to establish a state law requiring men and women to receive equal pay for equal work.

The 84-32 vote came during debate on a bill that would prohibit local governments from establishing their own minimum wages when Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, offered an equal pay amendment.

“It only says that we get the same pay as the other one does,” Clarke said, referring to women and men doing the same work. “It also says that if that doesn’t happen, we are eligible to file (a lawsuit) for compensation.”

Clarke noted that Mississippi is one of two states lacking an equal-pay law; Alabama is the other. The vote Friday appears to validate advocates of equal pay who have long argued that the idea has broad bipartisan support.

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said Clarke’s amendment is unnecessary because federal law already prohibits discrimination based on sex. At least three bills were filed this session to address pay equity; none were brought up in committee. Baker also failed to record a vote on the amendment, but said during debate that he opposed the measure.

“This amendment simply restates the law in all respects. It provides no additional relief, but if you’re inclined to do it that’s fine,” said Baker, who also chairs the Judiciary A Committee to which the fair-pay bills were assigned. 

Baker also noted that the minimum wage bill that prompted the fair pay debate states that local governments are not prohibited from adopting and enforcing their own anti-discrimination measures.

Nationally, women earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn, according to a U.S. Department of Labor analysis published in 2016.

Mississippi roughly follows that trend. Here, women make about 76 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make, information from the Washington D.C.-based National Partnership for Women and Families published in April 2017 shows. Black women who work full-time year-round jobs only earn 56 percent of the salaries of white, non-Hispanic men, the report shows.

After the original tally, 10 Republican lawmakers changed their votes to yes: Robert Foster of Hernando; Andy Gipson of Braxton; Joey Hood of Ackerman; Chris Johnson of Hattiesburg; Steve Massengill of Hickory Flat; Ray Rogers of Pearl; Jody Steverson of Ripley; and Tom Weathersby of Florence.

Reps. Donnie Bell, of Fulton, and Missy McGee, of Hattiesburg, did not record votes initially, and also changed their votes to yes.

Final action on the bill, which will determine if the issue advances, was delayed when a point of order about another aspect of the bill was raised. House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, must rule on the point of order before any more action on the bill occurs. There is no timeline for Gunn to make that ruling.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.