Democrats look to re-start Pay Equity Commission


“Equal Pay Right Meow”: House Democrats at a press conference Thursday advocating to reinstate the Colorado Pay Equity Commission, which Republicans voted to sunset last week.

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DENVER -- A week after a Republican-controlled Senate committee voted to do away with Colorado's Pay Equity Commission, a Democratic-controlled House committee voted Thursday in support of a bill seeking to bring the panel back.

Such is life in the first month of the new legislature, where both parties control one chamber and continue to advance partisan legislation mostly for political reasons -- Democrats and Republicans alike understand that most of these bills, good for firing up their respective political bases, aren't likely to make it to the governor's desk.

Take House Bill 1133, introduced this week and approved Thursday by the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on a party-line 7-6 vote: Democrats are glad to stage a press conference and continue a very public fight for the cause of pay equity -- and to make Republicans vote a second time (as they almost surely will) to kill something that holds seemingly broad appeal to women, arguably the most important voting bloc in the state.

"Ignoring the problem of pay equity won't make it go away," said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, the bill's sponsor. "In Colorado the numbers are disturbing. The pay gap is actually widening. In earning power, women in Colorado earn less than 78 cents to the dollar earned by men."

Republicans, who argue that the Commission has been ineffective in addressing a problem they believe is being overblown by Democrats for political gain, leaned on the testimony of two former members of the Commission.

"We were more like spinning our wheels, nothing was getting done," said Patti Kurgan, a small business owner who sat on the Commission. "There was clearly an agenda set in advance, it was definitely biased."

There were other examples of quixotic, partisan legislative wheel-spinning in several other committee rooms Thursday afternoon as the debates painted the legislature's persistent ideological divide and new power dynamic in high relief.

In the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, pushed a bill to remove racial preferences from college admissions; meanwhile, in the Capitol basement Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, offered legislation to get rid of the state's health insurance exchange that Democrats are certain to vote down in short order.

The GOP-controlled Senate Agricultural Committee also voted to roll back the state's renewable energy standard, aggravating conservation groups even though the bill stands little chance of survival should it get to the Democrat-controlled House.

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