House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, speaks during the Legislative leadership press conference Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in the Historic Supreme Court chamber of the state Capitol. Leadership from both parties addressed members of the media and took questions following Gov. Mark Gordon’s State of the State address. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Despite Wyoming consistently having one of the largest pay gaps between men and women in the country, a bill promoting wage transparency among employees fell a single vote short of being introduced Friday in the House of Representatives.

House Bill 188 was sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who has led several legislative efforts related to gender equality in previous sessions. However, only one of those bills, which raised fees for equal pay violations to the level for other labor penalties, has passed through the Legislature.

While its exact ranking varies, Wyoming consistently appears as one of the states with the largest pay disparity between men and women. A 2018 study by the state’s Department of Workforce Services found Wyoming had the second-largest pay gap in the country, with women earning 68 cents for every dollar men made for the same work.

Gov. Mark Gordon has also highlighted the issue. Last June, he signed a proclamation recognizing the gender pay gap on the day women would have to work past the end of 2018 to earn what men made in 365 days that year.

However, the bill ultimately failed introduction by a 39-18 vote – one vote shy of the threshold necessary to be introduced.

The Legislature also took the following actions Friday:

Medicaid expansion

A second effort to introduce a Medicaid expansion proposal failed by a wide margin in the House of Representatives on Friday afternoon.

As opposed to the Medicaid expansion bill that failed introduction Monday, the resolution from Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, would have amended the state Constitution to allow for the expansion of Medicaid to people making 138% of the federal poverty limit or less.

If approved by two-thirds of both chambers, the proposal would have then gone to the November ballot for Wyoming voters to decide whether to accept expansion. Sweeney emphasized the Legislature would be able to tailor the proposal to its desires, as opposed to what had happened with ballot initiatives for expansion that occurred in Nebraska, Idaho and Utah.

But the idea wasn’t palatable to most in the House.

“Our voters sent us here to make these votes,” Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said on the floor. “And if they don’t like our votes, they’ll find someone else to do it.”

The bill was then soundly rejected, with just 16 representatives voting in favor of the proposal.

Legislators’ pay

A proposal to increase lawmakers’ daily pay by $42 narrowly won introduction in the House of Representatives after failing its initial vote in the Senate earlier this week.

But some lawmakers were troubled by House Bill 227, which would raise the daily pay from $109 to $151.

“During the session in Cheyenne, we’re spending way lower than $151 a day,” Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said. “It’s lodging, food and incidentals, and it’s way below that mark.”

Despite those concerns, HB 227 won introduction by a close 41-16 vote.

Crossover voting

House Bill 209, which would prohibit crossover voting from one major party to another on the day of a general election, won introduction without a vote to spare.

The legislation would still allow switching from one party to another during primary elections, but that switch would have to be filed with a county clerk at least two weeks prior to the primary.

“There is still a time frame for changing from one major party affiliation to another (during the primary),” Rep. Jim Blackburn, R-Cheyenne, said on the House floor. “It’s a good compromise, and let’s give the people what they want.”

HB 209 won introduction by a 40-17 vote.

Limiting abortions

In the other chamber, Senate File 131 won introduction with a 20-10 vote. The bill, proposed by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, would prohibit any abortion from being performed after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

That proposal was referred to the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, where it could be heard as early as next week.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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