TRENTON — Following marches nationwide over the weekend to champion women's rights after President Trump's inauguration, New Jersey lawmakers spent nearly an hour Monday debating Gov. Christie's veto of legislation supporters hoped would narrow the gender pay gap.
Proponents tried to link an effort to override Christie's veto to the marches, but failed to win enough support. The Senate voted, 23-11, on a preliminary vote before the bill was pulled.
Two Republicans, including Diane Allen of Burlington County, joined 21 Democrats to vote for an override, four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed. Three Democrats were absent, and a few Republicans cast no vote. Some opposed the veto override who had voted in favor of the legislation last year.
Federal and state laws prohibit wage discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, national origin, and other characteristics.
But the legislation, passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and conditionally vetoed by Republican Christie last year, would have broadened state law to ensure that employers paid workers equal wages for "substantially similar work."
Different rates of compensation would be permissible under a seniority or merit system, among other reasons.
The bill also would have strengthened penalties for violations of the law, including tripling damages and eliminating a two-year cap on back pay.
In his veto message, Christie said a number of provisions, such as the one for unlimited back pay, were inconsistent with federal law or court precedent.
"Increasing damages is the only thing that provides a disincentive from engaging in this type of discrimination," Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said on the Senate floor Monday.
She said the Christie administration had rejected several compromise proposals.
"I've seen it personally," Allen, the Burlington County Republican, said of wage discrimination based on gender. "I've seen it with other women."
After Sen. Mike Doherty (R., Warren) said he had never witnessed such discrimination in New Jersey, Allen read a quote from the suffragist Alice Paul, who was born in Mount Laurel: "There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality."
On average, women in the Garden State are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the National Women's Law Center. That is slightly better than the national average of 80 cents.
Republicans said the data did not appear to account for variations by occupation.
Regardless of the size of the gap in pay for the same work, lawmakers of both parties agreed that any difference was unacceptable.
Republicans chafed at a provision that would require state contractors to report information on employees such as race, gender, job title, and compensation. They argued that this would deter businesses from locating in New Jersey.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex) responded, "I'm more worried about raising my daughter in this state."
Several Republicans emphasized that wage discrimination was already illegal and suggested that the bill would merely create a "cottage industry" for trial lawyers.
Democrats said current rules don't go far enough to protect against discrimination. "A law without an adequate remedy is not a law at all," said Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D., Union).
Even if the vote had succeeded Monday, the Assembly would have had to approve it as well to override Christie's veto.