Salt Lake City •
Utah Republican lawmakers shut down discussion of a bill Tuesday that would study whether women working in some state government offices are paid less than men.
The proposal from Democratic Sen. Luz Escamilla asked the state to spend $125,000 to have a university take an in-depth look at whether men and women with similar jobs and backgrounds are paid differently in more than two dozen offices in Utah’s executive branch.
Republicans on the Senate Business and Labor Committee asked Escamilla a series of procedural questions about her bill, such as the timing of a legislative budget analysis, before moving to end the meeting without casting a vote on the proposal.
St. George Republican Sen. Don Ipson said he moved to end the meeting because he felt Escamilla wasn’t prepared and the issue needed to be studied further.
“I want to give her more time to prepare,” Ipson told The Associated Press.
Escamilla told reporters afterward that, “there may be some ideological and fundamental problems” that sidelined her proposal.
She noted that the Republican-dominated Legislature shut down a proposal from a Republican senator last year that would have required private employers to adopt and disclose equal pay criteria.
“I’m not going to lie — it’s not going to be an easy task,” she said of passing her bill.
She said she will keep trying to push the bill forward, saying it’s hard to take any steps to address a gender-wage gap if there’s no data showing there’s a problem in Utah.
Sen. Curt Bramble, a Provo Republican, chairs the committee and told Escamilla during the hearing that he was concerned about her bill advancing because it was supposed to be studied last fall by an interim committee that meets when the Legislature is not in session, but Bramble claimed it didn’t have a hearing.
Escamilla corrected Bramble, pointing out that she presented her plan in November to the Business and Labor Interim Committee he chairs.
Audio and minutes from the Business and Labor Interim meeting in November show Bramble was absent that day but Escamilla’s plan was discussed for 30 minutes and the committee cast a vote encouraging her to pursue the issue.
Bramble also said a study performed by a Utah university won’t be an independent analysis because the schools are part of the government.
Sen. Daniel Hemmert, R-Orem, said Tuesday that he felt like the issue should be studied by a different committee this summer.
“It’s not designed to be an Equal Rights Amendment or anything else,” Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said. “This is a heavy lift that does need a good study.”