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Apr 11, 2016 5:22 PM

Steinhauser: Ayotte highlights gender wage equality measure; state Democrats term bill 'sham legislation'

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Sen. Kelly Ayotte says gender income inequality “is an important issue that unfortunately some women in our country face.”

And New Hampshire’s Republican senator adds “that’s why we need to make sure that we have strong laws in place to address discrimination in the workforce.”

Ayotte spoke out after headlining an equal pay roundtable discussion Monday morning with local business leaders at the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. At the event, Ayotte announced that she’s re-introducing her Gender Advancement in Pay (GAP) Act. Ayotte touted that her bill “would make clear that employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit.”

The Republican incumbent’s being challenged as she runs for re-election this year by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in what’s shaping up as the most high profile Senate showdown in the country. And as Ayotte was holding her roundtable discussion, the New Hampshire Democratic Party charged in an email that the senator’s bill was “sham legislation.”

Ayotte held her event on the eve of Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date that women need to work to catch up to what their male counterparts earned by the end of the previous year.

Ayotte said “what the GAP act does is it actually builds on some of the things done and passed in New Hampshire,” adding that she wanted to commend state lawmakers for their efforts in 2014 in “putting together a sensible solution that we could use as a national model.”

The senator added that while New Hampshire and other states have passed important legislation, “across the nation there’s been a little bit of a patchwork as opposed to a uniform standard.”

Ayotte told the assembled business and human resource leaders that if her bill, which she proposed along with Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, becomes law, “for you as New Hampshire employers there’s really not a huge difference to what you’re already complying with.”

State Democrats criticize Ayotte

The NHDP alleged that Ayotte’s legislation was a move “to cover up” her past voting record on the issue.

“She’s voted four times against the paycheck fairness act which is really a problem. It would imply that she denies that it really exists. And now that it’s an election year I think she’s looking for some cover and sponsoring this bill in an effort to be more in line with where Granite Staters really are,” Democratic state Sen. Donna Soucy told NH1 News.

And Soucy charged that “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees.”

But Ayotte said that’s not true.

At her round table discussion she said “on the retaliation provision, our provision, in fact we’ve clarified that based on feedback we got about our initial introduction of the bill, to say that employers can’t contract away the rights of employees to discuss their salary.”

Speaking one-on-one with NH1 News, Ayotte defended her measure, and criticized the attacks from the NHDP.

“I based the introduction of this law on what was passed in New Hampshire in 2014. And yet I actually strengthened it, I added civil penalties and also focusing on research on the pay gap and how we can make sure that women can have better paying jobs,” she said.

“Their criticism really rings hollow because the governor herself when she signed this law called it a strong commonsense bipartisan piece of legislation and so I based it on what we did in New Hampshire,” Ayotte added.

And she lamented that “you have it being made a political football again instead of looking for real solutions to a very important issue to women in our state and that’s why I’ve introduced this piece of legislation.”

Gov. Hassan will proclaim Equal Pay Day in New Hampshire at a Tuesday event hosted by Granite State Progress & Education Fund and New Hampshire Citizens Alliance.

According to the governor's office, Hassan will highlight "how pay equity will help boost the economy and strengthen the financial security of working families in the Granite State."

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