The Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill on April 12 seeking to promote pay equity between men and women. The bill will now move to the Senate for a vote.

The bill, which was presented to the House by the Labor and Public Employment Committee, passed by an overwhelming majority of 139–9.

In a press release on their website, the CT House Democrats wrote that in Connecticut, median annual pay for a woman working a full-time job is $50,706, compared to $60,385 for a man. This means that women in Connecticut are paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual wage gap of $10,679.

The gap is narrowing at a rate of about one cent per year, meaning that, at the current rate, women will not reach equal pay for over another 50 years, according to the press release. 

The bill would accelerate this process by preventing companies from withholding seniority from people who take unpaid leave for family matters, such as having a child. Connecticut does not mandate employers offer paid leave, and those who take time off often forego their seniority status as well as their salaries. The bill also prohibits employers from alleging that they based their employee’s current pay on what they previously earned at other jobs as a defense in pay discrimination allegations and lawsuits.

State Rep. Robert Sampson, R–80th District, was one of the nine legislators, all of whom are Republicans, to vote against the bill. He said he voted against the measure because it makes no significant changes to existing laws and only alters the word “similar” that is in the current law to the word “comparable.” According to the text of the bill, the current law “generally prohibits gender wage discrimination by requiring employers to pay employees an equal wage for a job that (1) requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and (2) is performed under similar working conditions.”

“The only significant change to current law is a bad administrative idea, moving oversight for pay discrimination complaints from the Department of Labor to the dysfunctional Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, an understaffed bureaucracy ill-equipped to handle such complaints,” Sampson said.

However, Christine Palm, communications and women’s policy analyst at the Connecticut Commission on Children, Women and Seniors, said the change in wording is significant because “similar” is a more subjective term than “comparable.” She added that night shift and day shifts, hazardous and nonhazardous jobs are not comparable.

According to State Rep. Derek Slap, D–19th District, who introduced the measure, the bill changes the types of jobs that fall under pay equity laws. 

One key provision in the original drafting of the bill that was not in the final bill voted on by the House was a measure prohibiting employers from asking applicants about their pay history, which is often used as a starting point for pay negotiations. The provision was removed as a compromise because, according to Palm, one of the state’s pro-business lobbying groups came out against it.

Slap said he believes that if the provision was included in the bill, there would have been a more partisan vote with more Republicans against the bill.

“It was probably the most important provision of the bill,” Palm said. “If your pay is predicated upon your previous pay it just continues a discriminatory chain.”

According to Slap, the provision was modeled after a law that passed unanimously in the Massachusetts legislature last year. He credits the success of the Massachusetts bill to their more progressive state legislature, a business community that helped push for it and the support of the state’s moderate Republican governor, Charlie Baker.

Slap said there are currently about 20 states discussing prohibiting employers from asking about pay history, including New Jersey, New York and California. He said he believes that other states will move in the direction of Massachusetts in the near future.

Connecticut’s bill is part of an ongoing effort to address discrimination. The last law passed on the issue in 2015, according to Palm, was a law that forbade employers from retaliating against employees for discussing pay.

Palm added that pay secrecy contributes to pay inequity because women often are often not aware of the difference in pay. Although the Equal Pay Act of 1963 outlawed discrimination based on gender, inequity has continued to exist because companies have not been forced to comply. State-level measures are working towards that.

“Just because it’s been illegal for a long time doesn’t mean that companies are complying,” Palm said. “Sometimes companies need to be made to do the right thing.”

Palm also noted that, contrary to popular opinion, this measure would actually help businesses, citing that happier employees are more loyal and more productive and that companies would benefit from fewer lawsuits.

Connecticut has the 15th smallest pay gap in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.