Bills to create a Tennessee minimum wage and require “equality pay” for women were killed in a Republican-controlled House subcommittee last week with Democrats complaining the measures — similar to legislation regularly defeated in past years — did not get an appropriate hearing.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, brought the “Tennessee Pay Equality Act” (HB1947) before the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, accompanied by Dia Cirillo of Murfreesboro, public policy chair of American Association of University Women in Tennessee.
Cirillo testified that 70 percent of Tennessee women have outside-the-home jobs and, on average, make about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same positions.
The subcommittee chair, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, took the lead in criticizing the measure. She contended that the “pay gap” between men and women is already narrowing, that federal law on the subject is adequate and that some pay differences are the result of “life choices that women make” — citing herself as a “perfect example” — that give priority to family over careers.
“Thank God women make those choices. Children need their parents, particularly their mother,” she said.
“Thank God you had the opportunity to make the choices you made,” Clemmons replied. “A lot of women across Tennessee don’t have the opportunity to make that choice. They’re working one, two, three jobs to support their families.”
Lynn also questioned whether Clemmons, as an lawyer, stood to personally benefit from new clients by sponsoring a law that would likely lead to many lawsuits. Clemmons insisted that was not the purpose of the legislation and instead the bill is “to bring our state into the year 2016 and make sure that women are treated equally to men and paid equally to men.”
The discussion ended with a motion from House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin to shut off debate. All four Republicans on the panel supported Casada’s motion; the two Democrats opposed. The bill was then quickly killed along the same party lines.
Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, protested the blocking of further debate, declaring “That was democracy at its worst.” He also complained about Lynn “questioning the integrity” of Clemmons by suggesting he sponsored the bill to benefit his law practice.
Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, presented the minimum wage bill (HB2277), accompanied by four women working low-wage jobs who were allowed two minutes each to plead for passage. The bill, as amended, would establish a state minimum wage of $11 an hour on July 1, 2016. The minimum wage would be increased to $13 per hour in 2017 and to $15 in 2018.
There was relatively little discussion of the measure after testimony from the four women — one a 79-year-old supporting a disabled 49-year-old daughter. Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, read a prepared statement from a coalition of business interests opposing the measure; Casada successfully moved to shut off debate; the bill was then killed on the same party-line vote as the “pay equality” measure.
“I’m overruled before I get started,” Turner said at one point when Lynn declared she could not speak while Casada’s “previous question” motion was pending.
Still, after the vote Turner thanked Lynn for letting the low-wage earners speak and Lynn said “I’m sorry” that the bill failed.