People ask a lot of questions about my role as a legislator. They ask about the Capitol building, the district and the process of moving bills through committee, among others. The question I’m asked most frequently is, “how has the state become so screwed up?” Anyone who has given even a cursory look into the process knows that question is difficult to answer.
However, one of the more important reasons the state is in the mess it’s in is because of emotion. Many legislators vote on items based upon the title of the bill instead of what is written in the legislation, what it means and what it will ultimately do.
One recent example: On April 19, a bill titled, “An Act Concerning Various Pay Equity and Fairness Matters.” (HB5386 — Amended by LCO 3897) was brought before the House of Representatives. Upon presentation, the proponent of the bill, a Democratic representative, stated that even though federal protections were passed in 1963, women still have to “fight for equal pay for equal work” and that “the disparities are even greater when you look at minorities.” That “in Connecticut, women make 83 cents to every dollar that a man makes” for doing the same job, and that [this legislation] would “give women the power and equalization that they deserve when they seek employment ...”
Many rose in support of this legislation, carrying the torch toward erasing the clearly illegal, and immoral, practice of discrimination by basing a person’s pay on their gender.
However, no matter the title, the only, and let me repeat only change to existing state statute addressed by this specific legislation would be to prohibit an employer from asking “… about a prospective employee's wage and salary history unless a prospective employee has voluntarily disclosed such information, except that this subdivision shall not apply to any actions taken by an employer, employment agency or employee or agent thereof pursuant to any federal or state law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of salary history for employment purposes. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an employer from inquiring about other elements of a prospective employee's compensation structure, as long as such employer does not inquire about the value of the elements of such compensation structure”
I leave it up to you to decide whether the proponent’s claim of addressing gender pay equity is met by the language in the actual legislation. Likewise, I leave it up to you to decide whether your legislators should be allowed to play sleight-of-hand with such an important and sensitive topic as gender discrimination.
The bill passed the House, 142 to 4. I voted against this bill because it does not address gender discrimination in the workplace and does not promote business friendly state policies. Instead of tackling important issues like the current $321.5 million budget deficit, the legislature is debating bills with misleading titles that are sure to be dragged out during campaign time and used as fodder for political mailers — crumbs for those so easily fooled into thinking that a vote for a title is a vote for something tangible.
As legislators, we are charged with reading and understanding what we are voting on. Putting aside whether or not you believe businesses are breaking a federal law that has existed for longer than I have been alive, this bill did absolutely nothing to affect any manner of pay equity, no matter what the title states. Meanwhile, we have a devastating fiscal deficit with no budget in sight, taxpayers are fleeing the state for lower cost states and politicians are passing feel-good bills. No wonder the state is so screwed up.
State Rep. Craig Fishbein represents the 90th district covering Cheshire and Wallingford.