Proposal to study gender wage gap dies in committee

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Rick Bowmer
In this Feb. 6, 2018, photo, Democratic Sen. Luz Escamilla speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Utah Republican lawmakers shut down discussion of a bill Tuesday, Feb. 13, that would study whether women working in some state government offices are paid less than men. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A proposal to study gender wage disparity in Utah government was shut down without a vote during Senate committee on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, presented SB152 to the Senate Business and Labor Committee. The bill would ask the government to put $125,000 toward a third-party study on whether there is a gender wage gap in the executive branch of the Utah government.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, responded to the committee’s dismissal of the bill. He said it should have been a more important issue because Utah is the state with the second highest gender wage gap in the U.S.

“The male-dominated committee quickly shot the proposal down, without even so much as a vote,” Dabakis said.

Escamilla said conducting this study would establish whether there is a problem and give a pool of information to draw from when discussing future policy.

Escamilla said it was important that an independent agency conduct this research to give more validity to the process. She suggested the University of Utah or Utah Valley University as possible options.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, raised concerns that neither option would be a truly independent agency because both are state schools that actually fall under the executive branch.

The usual number cited is that women earn 78 cents on dollar compared to what men earn. This number is found by comparing the median of what men working full time earn to what women working full time earn. It’s a simple calculation, though the reasons behind it and its implications are more complicated.

Dixie Sevison, director of BYU’s Women’s Services and Resources, said in Utah this gap is closer to 69 cents to the dollar.

“There is already research out there on the wage gap,” Sevison said. “At the very least, I think we should look at the data that has already been collected and then decided where to focus our energies.”

Erin Jemison, director of public policy with YWCA Utah, offered the organization’s support of SB152. She said it would be a further step in understanding a complex issue.

“The gender wage gap and analysis around that is incredibly complex. Simple numbers and simple reasons for those numbers are often thrown around,” Jemison said. “But real economists who are working on this issue will tell you that you can’t point to one factor; you can’t point to one number.”

The committee asked Escamilla several questions about funding the bill before Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, motioned to adjourn the meeting without a vote. Because the legislators moved the bill without a vote, it is unlikely SB152 will be passed this session.

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